Orphanage highlights plight of elephants

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Bench Africa

“Hey Kiasa, come meet your mama,” says Julius Shivegha, an elephant keeper at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi. It’s with these few words and the allure of fresh acacia leaves that my foster elephant starts to slowly edge forward toward the opening of the stall. It’s a profoundly moving experience to officially meet the orphaned elephant, and one I’ve looked forward to for months ahead of my Bench Africa tour of Kenya, in East Africa.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Bench Africa

As Julius tells it, Kiasa was orphaned when her mother died of starvation in the rust-red plains of Tsavo East, which has been gripped by the worst drought in recent history. Poachers also account for about 20,000 deaths of African elephants each year.  “Kiasa came to us when she was three months old. This was after her mother died of starvation,” Julius says.

Elephants, Bench Africa, Elephant Orphanage, David Sheldrick Foundation

Julius says most of the orphaned elephants are from Tsavo, the largest national park in the country. “Kiasa is about 14 months old now and she will stay in the nursery until she is ready to be moved back to Tsavo where it takes up to 10 years to be returned to the wild,” Julius says.

My first glimpse of Kiasa was via video link footage of her rescue. The second time I see the animal she is thundering toward me via a muddy path at the orphanage, located in the centre of Nairobi. The orphanage, which was established in 1977 by the late, great David Sheldrick and his wife Dame Daphne, who also passed away in April 2018, is now one of Nairobi’s most-loved attractions.

Julius, who is clad in an oversized lolly-green lab coat and wielding an oversized milk bottle full of baby formula, has been working at the elephant orphanage for 11 years. “I love my job, which is reviving the life of elephants that would have died. Helping them out to nurse them back to life and send them back to the wild is a great job,” says Julius.

When asked to describe Kiasa’s nature, Julius smiles and gently strokes the elephant’s head: “Nobody should stand in Kiasa’s way; she will always have her way when she wants it,” says Julius.

Julius says when some of the elephants arrive at the orphanage, he doesn’t expect them to survive. “When we find them, they are as good as dead. With that surviving spirit and the love of their human family we see them pull through and that is a very good thing… to feel like you have saved the life of a living creature,” he says.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is now being managed by the Sheldrick’s daughter, Angela, pioneered the science of raising orphaned elephants and returning them to the wild. Since its inception four decades ago the Trust has released more than 230 orphaned elephants back into the wild and currently has 93 orphaned elephants in its care.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Bench Africa

Six days after visiting the elephant orphanage in Nairobi, I am on my first game drive safari in Tsavo East with Bench Africa where elephants such as Kiasa are eventually returned to the wild. It’s here, while spotting herds of wild African elephants around the Satao Camp, that my thoughts turn to feisty little Kiasa, who is destined to be reintegrated back into this harsh savannah environment. Thanks to the work of keepers such as Julius at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, I’m feeling optimistic about her future.

Bench Africa, David Sheldrick Foundation

You don’t have to visit Kenya to foster an elephant. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fostering program encourages people worldwide to help fund the rearing of an infant elephant until they are integrated into the wild at the age of 10. sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Getting there
South African Airways fly six days a week from Perth to Johannesburg operating an A340–300 and A340–600 (connecting with codeshare partner flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide). flysaa.com.au

Luxury Signature Safari Special
Bench Africa’s 13-day Luxury Signature Safari Special features four nights in Cape Town, three nights in Franschhoek and five nights on a luxury safari near Kruger National Park. benchafrica.com 

Connoisseur Signature Safari Special
Bench Africa has launched an 8-day Connoisseur Signature Safari Special featuring three nights at Elephant Bedroom Camp in Samburu National Park and four nights at Mara Ngenche in Maasai Mara National Park. benchafrica.com

Carla Grossetti travelled to Kenya with Bench Africa, which is a proud supporter of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

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