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not your average adoption

Last weekend we took our social sponsoree to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the nearby Giraffe Center. The latter is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a petting zoo. Rather than have cages or enclosures for the animals, it has a feeding station with a food dispenser. A sign boldly announces that the giraffes are on a diet, so each visitor is only allowed to feed them two handfuls of food pellets. The giraffes had no qualms about bending down and taking the pellets straight from our hands with their long, bristly tongues. After they were sated, the animals wandered off into the wild, leaving our hands covered in giraffe saliva.


The Elephant Orphanage, situated on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, is home to baby elephants that have been orphaned, most often due to poaching. Male elephants play no role in rearing their offspring, so when elephant mothers are killed, elephants under the age of 3 have little to no chance of surviving.


Elephant babies must have milk during the first two years of their lives. The ones at the orphanage are fed formula from giant baby bottles every 3 hours, with a public feeding at 11am. They are also supervised in the park and brought in to sleep in stalls at night. Between the age of 2 and 3, they are taken in a group to Tsavo National Park to be reintegrated into the wild. In order to survive, they must be adopted by a group of wild elephants, a process that sometimes takes as long as 5 years. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), which operates the orphanage in Nairobi, looks after the orphans in Tsavo, taking care of them until they become fully accepted by a family of elephants in the wild.


Though the orphanage charges a nominal admission fee, it largely operates thanks to the goodwill of its visitors. We decided to support this worthy cause by adopting a baby elephant as a birthday gift for S’s sister. Ishanga, now almost 2 years old, was literally saved from the jaws of a lion. An anti-poaching team was about to pick her up when a lion pounced and almost killed her. The KWS team fired several shots in the air to scare off the lion and was able to save the baby elephant from a gruesomely premature death. Ishanga was named after a region of Tsavo National Park where she was rescued; we hope that with the care of the Sheldrick Orphanage she can return there to live out a full life.


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mimi Alschuler #

    This is not what I had in mind when I said I wanted a baby to play with! I hope that she is at least a Democratic elephant.

    October 14, 2011
    • Mimi, this is the land that gave birth to Barrack Obama’s father – of course this elephant is Democratic!

      October 15, 2011
  2. That is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

    June 20, 2012

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