Long before we ever came to Kenya, I promised some of the ACCT International interns that I would try my very best to find them baby elephants. Baby elephants were very important.
When we came to Kenya, I brought with me all the back issues of National Geographic that I hadn't found the time to read during grad school. Coincidentally, one of these NGs contained an article on the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, as NG explains, is
"the world's most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. The nursery takes in orphan elephants from all over Kenya, many victims of poaching or human-wildlife conflict, and raises them until they are no longer milk dependent. Once healed and stabilized at the nursery, they are moved more than a hundred miles southeast to two holding centers in Tsavo National Park. There, at their own pace, which can be up to eight to ten years, they gradually make the transition back into the wild. The program is a cutting-edge experiment in cross-species empathy that only the worst extremes of human insensitivity could have necessitated."It was founded in 1977 in honor of the famous naturalist, David Sheldrick, who was also the founder Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. His wife, Daphne Sheldrick, established the nursery we visited
"back in 1987. Sheldrick is fourth-generation Kenya-born and has spent the better part of her life tending wild animals...She's reared abandoned baby buffalo, dik-diks, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and black rhinos, among others, but no creature has beguiled her more than elephants."For me, visiting the nursery was an interesting display of the difficulty faced by charities when promoting their cause and raising funds, while also protecting their clients (in this case, baby elephants). The elephants at the nursery are raised in the most natural manner as possible to help ensure their eventual reintegration into the wild. These are not circus or zoo animals, they are not meant to be trained of put on display. Yet, public awareness and an emotional connection are important to the Trust's advocacy and fundraising efforts. The compromise is they welcome the public into the nursery for one hour each day for feeding time. The entrance fee itself is incredibly reasonable (the equivalent of $6 USD), but visitor are welcome to adopt one of the orphan elephants or make a donation to the Trust. In addition, throughout the viewing period, an employee explained, not only the work of the Trust protecting and rehabilitating elephants, but also the conditions that lead to orphaned and injured elephants. He encouraged the audience to do what they can, such as not buying ivory.
Personally, I found the viewing period too crowded.
It had too much of a zoo-like feel to me. But, you cannot deny that baby elephants are adorable.