The Sheldrick Trust’s elephant orphanage is located in the south of Nairobi, on the edge of Nairobi National Park. It’s here that baby elephants, usually discovered when their mothers have been killed by poachers, are brought and looked after.
Its a race against the clock. They may have been by themselves for several days, dehydrated and injured. Some have the machete wounds of where the poachers tried to kill them, despite the fact they have no tusks at such a young age. The keepers will travel to where the elephant is and try to get them drinking milk. Often they are flown back to the orphanage where they can be put in a dark stall with a keeper and reassured that they are not going to be harmed.
When they are considered ready, they are introduced to the other orphans, who crowd up to them, both curious about the new arrival and wanting to reassure them. All the orphans are fed milk every few hours, indeed the keepers sleep in their stalls with them so they can be fed throughout the night.
Several days a week, between 11 and 12, the orphanage opens so that visitors can visit and watch the orphans being bottle fed. They come charging out, going straight to their own handlers and drinking the bottles down in seconds. They then play with footballs or in the mud pools, while you are told about the orphanage and the Trust. The rest of the day they are off foraging in the scrub on the edge of the National Park under the watchful eye of their handlers.
On average, the orphans will stay at the centre until they are two, at which point they are moved down to the Rehabilitation Centre in Tsavo National Park. Here the elephants live as a herd, learning to live on the local plants and learning to fend for themselves. As they get older and more confident they tend to leave the herd and join up with herds of wild elephants. The males will join a bull herd and the females a family group.
This completes their journey, as from these elephants they learn the final skills of how to live and survive in the wild. There biggest challenge then is to escape the attention of the poachers – in the first 3 months of 2013 Kenya lost 70 elephants to poaching.
The Real Africa Trust supports the Sheldrick anti-poaching efforts and were in Nairobi in early April to make its annual donation. We were allowed to go behind the scenes at the orphanage, seeing the stalls where the orphans live as well as spending 30 minutes with them as they fed and played in the National Park.
We also saw a tiny elephant – only two or three days old who’d just arrived by plane in the centre. He’d been found lost in Tsavo, most probably after the slaughter of his mother for her tusks. He was being kept in a dark stable, with just his keeper, to whom he was already attached and kept his tiny trunk in the man’s overall pocket for reassurance.
If he survives the first couple of weeks he’ll be fine and will grow fit and strong under the excellent and expert supervision of the Trust. But how many other baby elephants have to go through this trauma just so some idiot can have ivory door knobs or trinkets? That is where the problem needs to be solved, by the Governments of the countries where the ivory is in demand doing something about it.