Elephant at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,Kenya, Kenya

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

A must for anyone visiting Nairobi should be a stop at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, or elephant orphanage, in the Nairobi National Park. The Trust, which was established by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in honor of her husband David, the founding warden of Tsavo National Park, allows small groups during visiting hours. To see the baby elephants (and rhino) being given bottles of milk is a very special experience. My daughter fell particularly hard for Maalim, a baby rhino who arrived at the orphanage only two days old (weighing 25 kilos) and at two months, weighed what most newborn rhinos weigh 40 kilos. The size of a medium, but very stocky, dog, he resembled E.T. but nuzzled up against the kids and loved being patted behind his ears. You will leave with a greater appreciation for the species, an understanding of their endangerment—possibly even an adopted pet.

Once a day for an hour (12 to 1p.m.) visitors can come to the orphanage to see the babies when they have come in from the neighboring national park for feeding. The orphanage’s aim is to rear the elephants so they grow up “psychologically sound” and able to adapt to elephant society back in the wild. Since elephants are extremely family-oriented creatures, each orphan is assigned a “family”, or keeper who stays with the baby at all times, even sleeping with it during the night. As Dame Daphne explained, “It’s taken me 28 years to get everything right. It’s not just the milk formula, it’s also the care, the husbandry and dealing with the problems they have—they’re very fragile animals. They also need psychological help until they’re comfortable amongst the wild herds. It’s not a question of taking an elephant and dumping it in the bush. They’ve actually got to make friends, find the elephant friends more interesting than their human family, and gradually make the transition. To begin, they stay with us and we expose them to wild situations. Then they decide to be elephants and to visit us. But elephants never forget, so they will always harbor love for their human families.”

The keepers will introduce you to their young and give them their bottles. Just like human babies, the emotions of these animals are expressed without language but are very evident. Some are more playful. Others shy. Each is named and you can learn their stories in materials on hand at the end of the visit. You will also learn that 30 years ago there were 3 million healthy elephants in Africa, but now there are fewer than 400,000.

Staff will explain the history of the nursery and the process of reintroducing the animals to the wild. Since 1987, Daphne and her team at the sanctuary have successfully “hand-reared” more than 85 newborn and very young elephant orphans. They have also raised rhinos, warthogs and baboons, which you may see. In addition, the Trust publicizes the plight of the species and champions preservation and conservation causes. The nursery is run by Dame Daphne, her daughter, Angela and her husband, Robert Carr-Hartley.

Indagare Tip: If you have adopted an elephant, which you can do online in advance, it is possible to arrange to visit your foster pet at dusk when the animals all come from their park adventures for feeding. We were able to visit this way and were the only people there with the staff when the elephants came in. We had ample time with the blind rhino, Maxwell, as well as the baby rhino, Maalim, while we waited and then got to see the elephants fed in their stalls, where they sleep with their keepers.

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Girafe at Giraffe Centre,Kenya, Kenya

Giraffe Centre

Getting up close and personal with giraffes is an incredible experience that local and visiting children get to do every day at Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre. Founded in 1979 by Betty and Jock Leslie-Melville, founders of Giraffe Manor, who played a fundamental role in saving the endangered Rothschild giraffe, the center is now a model of wildlife education. There’s a nature trail through the giraffe sanctuary (guided tours available) and small learning center but the main attraction is the deck from which you can feed the long-necked beauties. Handfuls of kibble can be tossed to the creatures, fondly referred to as wildlife’s super-models, and you can see why when they bat their long lashes. The centre adjoins Giraffe Manor, a hotel that is the former home of the Leslie-Melvilles, who brought two young giraffes from western Kenya when there were fewer than 120 left in the wild. Descendants of those original giraffes still roam the sanctuary and hundreds more have been safely released back to different reserves in the country. In 2000, a program was launched to bring local children from schools in the slums to the centre on ecology trips for their first introduction to wildlife.

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Exterior View - Karen Blixen Museum,Kenya, Kenya - Courtesy of Karl Ragnar Gjertsen

Karen Blixen Museum

“My own relation to the world of ancient Africa was indeed a kind of love affair; love at first sight and everlasting,” wrote Karen Blixen, who is more widely known through her pen name Isak Dinesen. Arguably through her book, Out of Africa, she is more responsible than any other writer of the 20th century for making the wild beauty of Africa, its people, landscape and animals, such a romantic destination. She wrote of her arduous attempt at creating a coffee plantation, of her friendships with Africans and fellow expats as well as of the animals. “A giraffe is so much a lady that one refrains from thinking of her legs, but remembers her as floating over the plains in long garbs, draperies of morning mist, a mirage.” Though she left Kenya, defeated by the economic failure of her venture in the 1930s, her house, where she lived from 1917 to 1931, remains. (Only parts of the film were shot here.) Typical suburban houses surround it now, for Karen, as the area is known, has become a desirable suburb with private schools, diplomatic housing and country clubs. Her loyal staff and beloved dogs have long since died and many of the furnishings and memorabilia are now in a museum in her native Denmark but the setting is lovely and her presence remains. It is worth a visit if for no other reason than as Peter Beard wrote of Blixen in his book, The End of the Game, “She has made us all part of that world, those extremes because like any great writer she was involved us in herself. This is her world and we are different fro having known it through her.”

Helitouring at Segera in Laikipia

Kenya by Helicopter

In addition to shorter transfers and tours en-route between or around the lodges on your Kenya itinerary, Indagare can also arrange epic half-day and full-day tours, and even camping experiences, by helicopter throughout Kenya. A special favorite is a trip through Northern Kenya that takes guests up to Lake Turkana (where fishing and boating can be arranged) or the Great Rift Valley. Contact your Trip Designer or email bookings@indagare.com to learn more.

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Reteti Elephant Sanctuary

The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Kenya cares for orphaned baby elephants until they can be released back into the wild (it's the unofficial counterpart to David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which takes care of Southern Kenya). A visit to the sanctuary, which also houses some orphaned giraffes, provides a truly authentic wildlife conservation and education experience that feels private and less commercial than what is offered in other places. Guests can have a shared or private visit to Reteti, at different times of day—in line with the elephants' feeding schedule—en route to or from their lodge, via private charter or helicopter. A private visit allows for getting up, close and personal with the elephants and even helping out with their care. It is an unforgettable experience.

When travelers donate or adopt an elephant, you support the costs of their milk, housing and caregivers—as well as the economic empowerment of local women (Reteti sources their milk from Samburu women goat farmers). Learn more and donate here.

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