All Friends At Nairobi’s Elephant Orphanage

When it comes to the survival of orphaned elephant infants, loving friendship is the only thing that works. Baby elephants need continuous loving, tactile affection as much as they need food. Without it they quickly die.

Kenya’s Dame Daphne Sheldrick, pioneer in elephant orphan rescue and rehabilitation, learned this the hard way. For years she strove to create a rich formula to substitute for mother’s milk. But in her efforts to keep orphans physically alive, she also learned that the emotional ties between baby and surrogate mother were crucial to the baby’s survival.

At her orphanage on the edge of Nairobi’s National Park she has developed an astonishing survival regime for all the young animals brought to her. Every orphan has its ‘mother’ i.e. one of the green-coated keepers seen in the photos. Every keeper is on full time duty with his charge, and this includes sleeping with the baby in its stall.

By day there is feeding, mud bathing and playing to be done. The blanket strung on a line in the top photo is there to simulate the overshadowing side of an elephant mother. The keeper feeds  his baby, holding the bottle down behind the blanket. The babies are also wearing blankets – at 5000 feet above sea level, Nairobi can be cool in July when this photo was taken, and in the wild small babies would anyway have the constant warmth and shelter of mother and aunts.


The ultimate objective of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is to re-introduce the orphans to the wild. This is a painstaking and precarious procedure, recreating communities in the absence of wild matriarchs who are the custodians of herd memory.

Tsavo East National Park is one of the main locations for the rehabilitation process. This is the park where Daphne Sheldrick’s husband, David, was warden until 1976. During their time together at Tsavo, the Sheldricks pioneered the rehabilitation of many wild animals that had been reared in captivity. On David’s early death in 1977, Daphne set up the Trust in his memory. Forty years on some 150 elephants have been saved, along with rhinos and other species.

If you want to read about the elephants in detail there are keepers’ daily diaries HERE. You can find out what is going on in the nursery with the youngest orphans, or discover how the adolescents are faring at various forest locations as they learn to live again in the wild. A study of dedicated friendship in action then.


If you are ever in Nairobi, then the orphanage is open to visitors for an hour each day. You can also donate to the Trust or foster an orphan. There are more details HERE.

Daily Post: Friend

44 thoughts on “All Friends At Nairobi’s Elephant Orphanage

  1. I have seen documentaries about Dame Daphne Sheldrick and the work she has done for many years….also the wonderful love and bond there is between the baby elephant and it’s Mother. So beautiful. Thank you, hope you are not being blown away 🙂

  2. I wonder if there will be any Rhinos and Elephants left within the coming 100 years, especially with the demand for ivory from Asia.
    Beautiful yet very poignant.

    1. China I heard banned ivory trade from next year if my info is correct.
      The demand for piano keyboards will always keep rhinos and elephants at risk

      1. Absolutely on both fronts, Jo. It’s interesting when you read some of the keeper’s diaries – especially the ones relating to the old eles – how very specific each elephant’s character is.

    1. He’s such a little scrap, isn’t he. Apparently he and the baby rhino had struck up quite a relationship, which is both very sweet and rather sad.

    1. Elephants definitely need all the help they can get, Gilly. I think there was a TV series about rehabilitating the orphans in Tsavo. All sorts of ups and downs.

  3. What a truly remarkable human being Daphne Sheldrick is. And what amazing work it must be for the “parents” of these beautiful young beings. Imagine saying – my job is to be mother to a baby elephant. This must be a place with a lot of love.

  4. The organization is doing a good job of ensuring the orphans feel love and cared for. Gaining strength as days goes by and able to go back into the wild where they belong… Awesome work.

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