Elephants Can Be Orphans Too

It’s true. Baby elephants get orphaned, just like humans. Mummy elephant could be killed or injured. Hell, maybe she could even disown the baby, leaving it in some sort of jungle dumpster. As a Biology graduate, I have no actual idea if that happens.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located on the outskirts of Nairobi, has been established to rescue and raise these orphaned elephant kids. The babies live out in the park, under their carers constant supervision. The carers sleep with the elephants at night, to watch over and feed them, until they are old enough to get out and explore the world. Every day they come into the feeding centre for lunch. The feeding centre is on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. It’s also one of the few real tourist attractions in town. I have been twice, and both times found it overpopulated by people who clearly fit the tourist bill. Think safari-looking clothes, rugged hiking boots, big floppy hats, or for the youngsters, think short shorts and singlet tops to cope with the heat. And of course, more cameras than most camera stores in town, and plenty of sunburnt arms and legs. For me, I went the first time with some little kids, and the second time with some friends just arrived. As a Biology graduate, I do enjoy seeing the little elephants play around, but it gets old quick, and I’d rather see them in the wild, personally…

Coming in for feeding

That said, it IS a good jumpstart into Kenya’s wildlife, for those with an impending safari. The elephant orphanage is part of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and every day between 11am and Noon, visitors can come to the centre, pay a measly, or hefty, 500 shilling “donation” (about $5-6… hefty depending on your budget) to watch the rangers feed the baby elephants, and give a speech/lesson about the shelter, what they do, and an introduction to some of the elephants. If you dig baby elephants, get there on time, because the little ones get fed first. Yes, you can touch them if they come close enough. There’s also a solitary white rhino chilling in its cage, and warthogs trotting around the grounds from time to time. Since it’s set inside the Nairobi National Park, there’s the chance, however slim, that a lion could cross your path on the way in, but I definitely think the odds are against us.

Even if you aren’t so keen on elephants, but willing to coff up the mandatory donation, the amusement gathered from listening to the dumb questions some people ask ( Sorry American, no offence to all of you, I know you all aren’t this ridiculous). On my more recent visit, we had an American man, keen to display his immense interest in all things elephant, by asking a series of questions. He started with “how old is the youngest elephant”, a fact stated probably 3 times in the course of the feeding. He followed with more questions, asking for information already told to him.. But the coup de gras was his final question:

“Do all the elephants get released into the wild, or are some trained to become circus elephants?” Come on guy, seriously??

Heading back to the bush

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