If you're planning a trip to Kenya, there are many reasons to extend your layover in Nairobi. At the top of the list is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Orphans' Project, which rescues, rehabilitates, and ultimately releases baby elephants, rhinos, and giraffes back into the wild. The sanctuary is part of Nairobi National Park and was founded by world-famous conservationist and author of Love, Life and Elephants, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Discover why the project is worth supporting and why it'll be a memorable addition to your Kenyan vacation.
About the Orphans' Project
Originally, the Orphans' Project was set up exclusively for baby elephants who had lost their mothers due to poaching, drought, habitat destruction, or human-wildlife conflict. Because infant elephants rely exclusively on their mother's milk for the first two years of their life, it is unlikely that orphaned babies will survive without human intervention.
As the founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the wife of legendary conservationist David Sheldrick, Dame Daphne has worked with elephants for more than 50 years. Through trial and error, she was able to create a formula that worked as a substitute for elephant milk, giving orphaned babies a chance for survival. Daphne and David successfully hand-reared many baby elephants during his time as warden of Tsavo East National Park.
After David passed away in 1977, Daphne set up the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in his memory and opened a formal orphanage (rather than caring for the babies in their private home). Today the trust welcomes rescued rhinos and giraffes as well, and has successfully raised over 240 orphans through a remarkable program of hand-feeding and round-the-clock care. Once the babies are old enough, they are transitioned back into the wild at Tsavo East National Park.
Visiting the Orphanage
The orphanage is open to the public for one hour a day, between 11 a.m. and midday. During this time, you'll have the opportunity to watch the babies being hand-fed by their carers, and enjoying a mud bath or soil dusting. The visit is both entertaining and educational, with one of the keepers giving a fascinating lecture about the project's history and goals, the issues that face elephants in the wild and the practicalities of raising very young wild animals by hand. You'll also be introduced to each of the babies, learning a little bit about their story and personality.
You can take plenty of photos, and afterwards there's a small gift shop that sells souvenirs of your trip.
Directions & Entry Fees
The orphanage is located inside Nairobi National Park, which is approximately 15 kilometers from Nairobi city center. You'll need to enter through the KWS Central Workshop Gate, situated on Magadi Road in Langata. Catch a taxi from your hotel, or ask your tour operator to include the orphanage as part of your Kenya itinerary. It's actually worth staying in the area as there are plenty of other tourist attractions nearby, including the Karen Blixen Museum and the Giraffe Center (where you can learn more about the endangered Rothschild's giraffe).
To stay overnight in the park itself, book accommodation at Nairobi Tented Camp.
Entry requires a minimum donation of $7 or 500 Kenyan shillings per person. The orphanage only accepts cash.
Adopting an Orphan
It's hard not to be touched when you see the dedication and hard work it takes for the keepers to keep the young elephants happy and healthy. Feedings occur every three hours around the clock, and keeping them warm and emotionally secure requires a huge amount of effort and money. For just $50 a year, you can adopt an orphan and make a meaningful contribution to the orphanage.
You will receive an adoption certificate, monthly email updates, a monthly water color painting by Angela Sheldrick and exclusive access to the latest Keeper's Diaries, photos and videos. Active adopters are also able to make arrangements for a private visit to the sanctuary, at 5 p.m. when the babies return to their stables for their evening milk and bedtime. All of the orphans that are up for adoption have a profile on the DSWT website, listing their name, age and reason for being at the sanctuary.
This article was updated and partly re-written by Jessica Macdonald on September 5 2019.