Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage

Yesterday I went on a tour in and around Nairobi with eight other people who were attending the Ecotourism Conference with me.  Despite starting late we were fortunate enough to see a number of really great places here.  We did a game drive in Nairobi National Park which was fun, but after having gone on safari in Botswana it really is true we have the best (and most) animals.  There were several Europeans in the group who wanted to see the Karen Blixen Museum, which for those who may not be familiar is the home and estate of the woman who wrote the novel Out of Africa.  Here is a picture, which you may recognize from the movie:

And we also went to the Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife- Giraffe Center where we were able to feed the giraffes:
However, the highlight of the tour for me was definitely seeing the baby elephants:
I mentioned in a past blog post that Kenya has a serious problem with illegal poaching. In fact, the terrorist attack that took place here only a few days ago was partially funded by elephant poaching.  In the first six months of this year nearly 200 elephants were illegally killed for their ivory here in Kenya.  Despite significant attempts to halt poaching, including a national anti-poaching campaign called, “Hands Off Out Elephants,” it continues and experts predict all wild elephants in Kenya will be extinct within the next decade.
In many cases, poachers are looking for mature elephants with large tusks when they select their prey.  Since male elephants often exist in solitary, female elephants are targeted because several females are present in a herd, making it easy for poachers to obtain multiple sets of tusks at a time.  Baby elephants don’t have tusks until they are 1-2 years old, and even at that point; their tusks are so small the poachers don’t waste their time collecting them.  This means a lot of little elephants are left orphaned.  This is a big problem because without milk for the first few years of life the baby elephants won’t survive.

This is where the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust comes in.  The DSWT sponsors an elephant orphanage adjacent to Nairobi National Park.  Whenever a baby elephant is found without a mother, the DSWT flies to whatever park of the country the baby is located, brings it to the orphanage and raises it until about age 3.  Currently the Elephant Orphanage is home to 31 elephants between 3 weeks and 2½ years old.  Once the elephants reach about 3 years old they are reintroduced to the wild, which takes approximately five years.  Though this seems very costly and time intensive, the orphanage has a 98% success rate in rearing and reintroducing the elephants back into the wild.  And since elephants live to be about 70 years old, that is almost a tenfold return on investment in terms of time.
Here is a short video I shot of some of the baby elephants being fed at the orphanage. Enjoy:

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