Orphaned elephants get new life in Kenya

At the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphanage in Nairobi, young rescue elephants, rhinos and giraffes are nursed and then rehabilitated back into the wild

Posted: Jun 10, 2019 10:20 AM
Updated: Jun 10, 2019 10:20 AM

When they found Enkesha in Kenya's Masai Mara in 2017, the baby elephant's trunk was nearly severed by the wire snare wrapped tightly around it.

She was in intense pain and at risk of losing the appendage so necessary for food and survival.

It took a three-hour operation and a lot of aftercare but, two years later, calf's trunk has knitted well. When CNN Travel meets her at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's elephant orphanage in March 2019, she is with the rest of the nursery's little herd -- none bigger than four foot tall -- padding through the undergrowth, pulling at foliage with their nimble trunks.

The snare that imperiled Enkesha is one of more than 150,000 removed by the trust since it established its first de-snaring team in 1999, as part of its ongoing work for the protection and conservation of wildlife and wild habitats in Kenya.

The elephant orphanage in Nairobi National Park is the most famous of the trust's nine programs. Founded in 1977, it was the first organization in the world to successfully raise milk-dependent orphans by hand and reintegrate them back into the wild.

How to raise an elephant

"Through the nursery here we've raised over 244 elephants," the trust's CEO, Angela Sheldrick, tells CNN Travel. Elephants orphaned though poaching, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict are picked up by rescue teams and looked after by the keepers here.

"When you take on a baby elephant it's a long-term project," she explains, because "their lives mirror our own." An elephant of one year is just as vulnerable and needing of care as a human child.

"We presently have 93 elephants that are milk-dependent," she says. "They're with us for the first three years here in the nursery. Once they get older they need exposure to the wild herds because ultimately every elephant that we raise lives a wild life again. We just usher them through the difficult milk-dependent years."

It takes time and patience to introduce them to living independently. Says Sheldrick. "Like your own kids, they don't fly the nest quickly. They need to have that confidence." The process takes about five years, but the nursery's alumni is blossoming. There are now close to 150 rehabilitated orphans, with 30 known calves of their own.

The orphanage has also hand-raised 17 rhinos. One of the most popular residents is Maxwell, a rhino who was born blind and then rejected by his mother. He's been at his nursery "forever home" since 2007.

'Joyful and joyous'

The trust was established more than 40 years ago by Angela's mother, Daphne Sheldrick, in memory of her late husband, conservationist David Sheldrick. Daphne passed away last year, while the trust has been headed up by Angela since 2001.

"When my mum was pioneering this she was the first person in the world to raise an infant elephant," says Sheldrick. "It was difficult. One didn't have the Internet; one didn't have the benefit of anyone having done it before. It's quite remarkable how far we've come."

The trust's head keeper, Edwin Lusichi, has been at the nursery for 20 years. He tells CNN Travel that working with elephants is "important and joyful and joyous, and you just feel relaxed."

"It's unfortunate that what is causing them to be left orphans is caused by human beings," he adds.

It's our responsibility to look after our fellow creatures, for our planet and for the future. "Our young ones will never get to see them if we don't protect them now," he says.

Never forget

The charity is open to the public for one hour each day, so visitors can meet the elephants and learn about the threats facing the species.

Orphans can be adopted from $50 per year and their foster "parents" can enjoy an extra visiting hour in the evening.

Lusichi is leading the tour the night we visit, introducing the 21 elephants, two rhinos and one giraffe currently on site.

The grown elephants go on to new lives in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya's largest national park, but the bond with those who brought them up is not lost.

"They never forget the kindness and do want to return," says Sheldrick. "The bulls less so -- they travel great distances and become more independent -- but the female herds are all about bonded family units. They don't ever forget those that have raised them."

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphanage, KWS Workshop Entrance to Nairobi National Park, Magadi Road, Nairobi 00503, Kenya

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115088

Reported Deaths: 3255
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23129377
Mobile16849315
Tuscaloosa10296140
Montgomery10197197
Madison928096
Shelby733863
Baldwin663769
Lee653465
Calhoun456761
Marshall438150
Etowah426551
Houston414834
Morgan412035
DeKalb338829
Elmore320053
St. Clair292542
Limestone284230
Walker277292
Talladega265335
Cullman244024
Lauderdale226242
Jackson214915
Franklin205231
Autauga204831
Colbert200532
Russell19443
Blount192525
Chilton186932
Dallas186527
Coffee176311
Dale175151
Covington174029
Escambia172530
Chambers135044
Clarke134317
Pike133513
Tallapoosa131787
Marion107629
Barbour10319
Marengo100822
Butler100740
Winston92213
Geneva9007
Lawrence85032
Pickens84718
Bibb82814
Randolph82316
Hale76730
Washington74412
Clay74112
Cherokee73314
Lowndes70928
Henry7086
Bullock64817
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60630
Perry5896
Fayette57413
Wilcox56712
Conecuh56113
Cleburne5568
Macon53420
Lamar4905
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 59°
Columbus
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 59°
Oxford
Overcast
52° wxIcon
Hi: 60° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 52°
Starkville
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 55°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather