This is likely to be a highlight of your visit to Nairobi (and, for some, a high point of their time in East Africa). Seeing the parade of baby elephants -- all orphaned and in critical need of human intervention -- make a brief lunchtime appearance each day at this world-renowned animal orphanage will warm even the coldest heart. A small charity that's managed to have a huge impact, the trust was established in 1977 in memory of the eponymous naturalist David Sheldrick, who was also the founding warden of Kenya's Tsavo East National Park, where he worked for nearly 30 years. The Nairobi-based center, which specializes in the rescue of orphaned animals, particularly elephant and rhino, was established by Sheldrick's widow, Daphne, who worked alongside her husband and was knighted by the Queen; among other achievements, she was the first person to perfect a milk formula that can be used to raise newborn orphan elephants. Born with a natural empathy for animals, Dame Daphne has personally hand-reared more than 30 elephants and more than a dozen black rhino calves. Today all the animals -- sadly, in 2009, the orphanage had its highest-ever numbers -- are hand-reared and prepared for rehabilitation into the wild.
There is also a fostering program whereby you can contribute directly to the day-to-day sustenance of an orphaned elephant that will one day be released into the wild: Visit the website to adopt right away, and when you visit the orphanage, you'll be able to visit with your very own foster elephant.
Big Babies Looking for Love -- According to Daphne Sheldrick, who founded the world-famous David Sheldrick Elephant & Rhino Orphanage in Nairobi, blowing into an elephant's trunk is the pachyderm equivalent of saying "hello" or shaking hands. During her many years spent with the ellies, Dame Sheldrick has also learned a great deal about the vulnerabilities of what we too easily assume to be thick-skinned beasts. Elephant children depend on the nurturing atmosphere of a close-knit family, so when they lose their mothers or are torn from the herd, it takes 'round-the-clock care and attention to keep them from succumbing to depression. The elephants kept at the orphanage are looked after by 24-hour "keepers" who sleep on bales of hay alongside the elephants and wake up every 3 hours in order to feed their charges. Like human infants, baby elephants are sensitive to cold, and the orphanage welcomes donations of blankets and ladies tights, which are used to wrap the animals up snugly when they go out to play in the dirt in the early morning (the tights are used as belts to keep the blankets in place). The orphans also need to be sheltered from wind, rain (often with umbrellas), and the sun -- in the wild, such protection would be provided by the presence of maternal elephants in the herd, who would also help keep the babies' body temperature stable. And, just as humans need to be protected from sunburn, elephants take regular mud baths because mud acts as a natural sunblock.