Situated just outside the Kenyan capital city, Nairobi, is one of the most inspiring and heartwarming wildlife organisations you could be lucky enough to experience, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.
So to start off, here’s a little snippet about this amazing organisation:
The DSWT claims a rich and deeply rooted family history in wildlife and conservation. It was founded in 1977 by Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE, in honour of her late husband, the famous naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE, who sadly passed that same year. Daphne Sheldrick had worked alongside David for over 25 years raising and rehabilitating many wildlife species. At the heart of the DSWT’s conservation activities is the Orphans’ Project, which has achieved world-wide acclaim through its hugely successful elephant and rhino rescue and rehabilitation program.
The Orphans’ Project exists to offer hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they struggle against the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought.
Daphne Sheldrick dedicated her life to saving young elephants and rhinos and pioneered ways to rear newborn animals by hand. In 2006 Daphne Sheldrick was made a Dame, she also received one of Kenya’s highest honours, the Moran of the Burning Spear, was named in the UN environment programme’s global 500 roll of honour, recognising outstanding environmental achievers, and was an honorary doctor of Glasgow University. This remarkable wildlife ambassador sadly passed away in April 2018 at 83 years of age, resulting in thousands of tributes pouring in from across the globe. Her family, who run the DSWT and continue her work, describe the organisation as “today the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa”. The trust also added: “Her legacy is immeasurable and lives on in the tiny steps of baby elephants for generations to come.”
Aside from the orphanage, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is committed to the following work – conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife through anti-poaching, safeguarding the natural environments, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary services and enhancing community awareness and education. In a nutshell, they look at every aspect affecting elephants and rhinos and make a difference themselves which is pretty impressive stuff! To give you an idea of just some of the fantastic work that they do, below is a brief outline of a couple of their projects:
The Antipoaching Project
For over 15 years the DSWT has been involved in funding and operating mobile de-snaring and anti-poaching units formed to meet the challenges threatening the wildlife and environment of the Tsavo National Parks (20,812kmsq). Today, severe threats to the environmental stability of the area include elephant and rhino poaching for ivory and horn, bushmeat snaring for large scale trade, illegal logging of forested areas, charcoal burning and livestock intrusion.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Community Outreach Programs
For over a decade the DSWT’s Community Outreach Programs have been vital in building sustainable relationships with the local communities bordering Kenya’s National Parks and wildlife protected areas.
These successful programs strive to improve living conditions and educational standards, encouraging communities and the next generation to protect their wildlife and environment.
So as you can see, the work of the DSWT is vast and is having a positive impact on not just the wildlife but on local communities and education.
Now over to how you can experience a day at the DSWT with these adorable mammals:
Most people visit Kenya for the wildlife and a trip to this incredible country just wouldn’t be complete without swinging by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to witness their devotion to helping the elephant and rhino species to prosper. Plus, who could resist seeing young elephants playing, interacting and enjoying a good old mud bath.
The Trust is open to the public for one hour every day, excluding 25th December, from 11am to 12noon. During this time you can see the elephants arriving for their feeding session and midday mud bath where no doubt they will cause a bit of havoc with their young playful personalities or just chill out in the sunshine following filling their belly with food. This is one of the best hours you could hope to spend with elephants in an ethical environment as the Project Manager will explain the work of the Trust and the simple point that these graceful and playful mammals are to be treated exactly as they were originally…….wild!
While watching the antics of the elephants you will be introduced to each of them and hear of the reasons how they came into the care of the Trust. This can be truly heartbreaking as many of the young elephants have endured shocking hardships such as being the result of family killed for poaching elephants for their ivory tusks (8% of the population is poached annually, statistics from the African Wildlife Foundation), caught in human conflict, being caught in snares, fallen down man-made wells, suffering dehydration, deforestation and loss of natural habitat and the list goes on. Throughout the entire process of hand-raising the elephants, the end goal for their dedicated keepers is for the calves to be reintroduced to a herd. One of the keeper’s main priorities is to ensure the elephants don’t become dependant on humans. Check out one of the recent reintroduction stories as Shukuru is moved to Umani Springs – 7/3/2018. These highly intelligent animals also remember everything from birth until death. They are family oriented, playful, and incredibly emotional.
Why are elephants so important in the wild?
Elephants are a keystone species. This means that they play a vital role in keeping the eco-system in balance. A small number of a keystone species can have a large impact on their surrounding environment. Keystone species are usually (but not always) a predator. In African savannas, elephants are a keystone species. They are the eco-systems’ architects, gardeners, and engineers. Their consumption of plants helps control the physical and biological aspects of an ecosystem. This feeding behaviour keeps the savanna a grassland and not a forest or woodland. They make paths used by other animals, and humans, that oftentimes turn into roads. They dig water holes, forge trails, pull down trees, and even create salt licks.
With elephants to control the tree population, grasses thrive and sustain grazing animals such as antelopes, wildebeests, and zebras. Smaller animals such as mice and shrews are able to burrow in the warm, dry soil of a savanna. Predators such as lions and hyenas depend on the savanna for prey.
If elephants disappear, it will start a domino effect that would lead to other animals becoming extinct.
Back to the importance of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organisations such as DSWT:
The DSWT offers hope for the future of Kenya’s ‘vulnerable’ rhino and elephant populations as they clash against the poaching of their horn and ivory. Drought, deforestation, and the loss of natural habitat due to human population are also growing threats.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised over 150 infant elephants, and has reintegrated orphans back into the wild. The care of these orphans would not be possible without the committed keepers and project managers at DSWT.
So as you can probably gather, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a place that is worthy of every high praise. You will leave this wildlife organisation feeling more energised and with a greater understanding of these amazing mammals. Everything from the incredible staff, to the DSWT grounds, all the way to the endearing elephants will completely warm your heart and make your trip to Kenya a memorable and moving experience.
Absolute Africa is thrilled to include visits to this wildlife organisation in our Kenyan itineraries to continue supporting the fantastic work that they do. Whilst our reverse trips don’t specifically include a visit, we can certainly organise a half day excursion for you after your trip as we wouldn’t want you to miss out. So please make sure you factor in some time to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with any travel plans to Nairobi as it’s an experience that will stay with you for a long time to come.