The absolute must visit place in Nairobi is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage. It was our 1st and favorite stop in Nairobi.
Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick founded DSWT in 1977. Named and dedicated after her late husband, David Sheldrick, who was the founding Warden at Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. DSWT’s orphanage program has successfully saved and raised over 150 infant elephants & rhinos and provided a much-needed education on wildlife conservation to the general public.
Located inside the Nairobi National Park, the entrance to the orphanage was only accessible by car. We arrived about 10:30 am (way too early-10 minutes or less would have been sufficient), a half hour before feeding and general public viewing hour (Daily viewing 11:00am-Noon except on December 25). Although quite crowded, the viewing space was large with plenty of standing room for all guests.
For an increased chance of elephant interaction, find a spot near one of the two watering buckets but watch for spraying water and mud. Some of the elephants were quite playful and willing to interact with the public, while others stayed their distance.
The orphans were ridiculously cute. They trotted in from the park area & as they arrived each personality came alive through their body language and interaction with the keepers and other elephants. Some of the elephants were able to hold the large bottles themselves and others depended on the keepers. Once they were satisfied with their meal, some wandered around the viewing area. They came quite close to the crowd and at times, tried to cross the ropes or leaned into the ropes.
The viewing hour was split into two sections. The first group comprised of the younger smaller elephants and the 2nd group was made up of the older and larger elephants. The crowd thinned out quite a bit after the first group that allowed for more places to move around and stand during the 2nd group.
Gentle touching/petting of the elephants was allowed. We noticed the elephants, which preferred not to be touched stayed their distance, and the ones who liked the interaction made every effort to stay close to the lines of people. A few of the elephants leaned into the crowd and tried to push gently forward with their heads through the crowd. I was lucky enough to have an elephant touch my face, arms and chest with its trunk. It gently pinched my cheeks and nose with the end of its trunk and poked at my arm as if it wanted to play. It was one of the coolest experiences ever! And all I had to show for it was a mud-stained face and white shirt.
For most of the hour, I stood next to Mishak Nzimib, who has been with DSWT since 1987. The keepers and staff were just as much a part of this entire DSWT experience. If it weren’t for their hard work and dedication, the orphanage project would not be such a success. Watching him interact with the babies was mesmerizing. I had the pleasure of chatting with Mishak very briefly after the feeding. His enthusiasm and love for his job and the elephants was contagious. He made sure to let me know how special I was because one of the elephants chose to touch me with its trunk. He told me elephants only directly interact with people they choose to like.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- The orphanage is located inside the Nairobi National Park is only accessible by car. You will need to arrange your ride to/from either via a taxi or local tour guide. Transportation prices will vary depending on your starting location.
- Visiting hours for the general public are ONLY one hour every day except December 25 between 11:00 am to 12:00 pm.
- Price is 500 Schilling or $7 USD. Please feel free to donate more.
- Stand next to one of the two watering buckets.
- Yes, you can touch an elephant if he/she comes near you. PLEASE BE GENTLE!
- Don’t wear white or light colors. The elephants are playful, dusty and muddy. Watch for flying water and mud.
- Bring your camera! The photo ops are nonending.
- Bring water. It gets hot.
- Dress in layers, which allow you to adjust to any changing temperatures.
- A hat and sunglasses are highly recommended.
- Limited seating and shady spots available in viewing area. Plan accordingly.
- Additional viewing is available for those who have adopted/sponsored an elephant. See DSWT’s website for how you can help!
4 out of 5 Travelationship High Fives – It gets crowded.
If you like animals, nature, outdoors, feel good places you will like DSWT.