Elephant drinking milk at the elephant orphanage Nairobi

Elephant Orphanage Nairobi – What You Can Expect When Visiting

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Everything You Need To Know To Visit the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi

If you are planning a visit to Nairobi, you would likely have read about the Elephant Orphanage Nairobi – this is an incredible place that will pull at your heartstrings and provide you with a memorable experience.  This article details our personal experience and provides you with helpful details for planning your own visit.

Highlights Of A Visit To The Elephant Orphanage

Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage Nairobi

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was established in memory of David Sheldrick in 1977. Sheldrick was instrumental in developing the first national parks in Kenya and raising awareness around the widespread issue of poaching in the region. He and his wife Daphne worked their entire lives in the wilds of Kenya to support animals and provide safe refuge for those orphans impacted by poaching and environmental changes. 

Cute elephant munching

This led to the creation of the Nairobi orphanage and nursery, but it is important to understand that this orphanage is part of a much larger organization that operates under the Trust. The orphanage is a wonderful place to visit and become acquainted with the baby elephants in their care, but this group does so much more to help with animal preservation.

A few of their projects include rescue and rehabilitation, providing water relief, anti-poaching teams, and protecting habitats – they are doing some incredible work.  Opening the nursery to the public allows them to raise funds for the babies but also gives them the ability to raise awareness about their other equally important field projects.

Baby elephants having a drink

While the desire for change originally started with David and Daphne’s love of the Kenya wildlife, the Trust is now run by Sheldrick’s daughter Angela with her husband and sons who have dedicated their lives to this legacy.

Elephant Orphanage Nairobi Tickets

We arrived at the Nairobi National Park entrance to find a long line of cars that were paying for entrance to the park (a relatively new process that is separate from the entrance to the elephant sanctuary and costs approximately $43.00 USD).

Entrance to the park

This is where it is helpful to have a guide, as there was a lot of discussion with ticket collectors in Swahili while they confirmed who had paid in advance and who hadn’t but we had already arranged the park entry fee through our tour and were able to bypass much of the line relatively quickly.

✅ Make this an easy process by booking this activity as part of a tour. Click here for a great option.

We found in Nairobi that the preferred method of payment is through a Kenyan online system (eCitizen) that is mainly used by locals so arriving there on your own to try and purchase a ticket can be time-consuming and frustrating and doesn’t always work for foreigners.

From there, our driver went to the entrance of the Sheldrick elephant sanctuary where another entrance ticket was required. It is important to note that an advanced reservation is required which can be done by contacting their office via email. Again this is taken care of if you are with a tour. The reservation is verified, and the payment is made onsite – this one in cash – $20.00 USD for non-resident adults, under twelve is $5.00 USD.

Entrance to the Sheldrick nursery

After finalizing all the entry fees, we were dropped off and made our way to the demonstration area.

Elephant Orphanage Nairobi Visit

The area where the elephants were brought out is a large roped-off area of muddy ground. We were taken to the far side of the roped area across from the raised stone platform on the one side.  This gave us a very close-up view of the babies and even allowed us to pat them due to our proximity.

The demonstration area at the elephant orphanage Nairobi

Insider Tip

Due to some rain the previous day it was extremely muddy so be prepared that depending on where you are standing and if it is wet, your shoes may become caked in mud.

The presentation lasts an hour. The elephants know the plan for the day, and you can see them from across the field – some of them running – to get to the feeding area. They are super cute! They bring them out in two groups – first the youngest ones and then the slightly older ones.

Elephants running towards their milk

When they first come out, the keepers feed them a large bottle with formula, and they gulp it down quickly, even holding the bottle with their trunks. After that, they munch heartily on pieces of tree branches.

Elephant feeding

They keep pretty busy having their lunch and don’t seem bothered by the crowd of people and even come close to the ropes so people can touch and interact with them.  They do ask that only one person at a time pet them so as not to overwhelm them.

Patting the elephant

The presentation is very informative and provides the opportunity to be introduced to each elephant by name. You learn about the reason they were orphaned and a little about their individual personalities.  You can see some of this on display as they play with each other and interact with the keepers.

When we visited there were 27 elephants in the nursery and 2 rhinos.

Elephant Orphanage Nairobi

We were fascinated to hear about how the elephants are cared for at this important facility. They stay in the nursery for 3-4 years. Here they rotate amongst the keepers, so they don’t ever become attached to one person.  The milk that they are fed (18-24 litres per day!) is a formula that was created by Daphne Sheldrick. It took her 38 years to perfect it as elephants are unable to digest cow’s milk.

A baby elephant being fed the formula

As they grow older, they are brought to the reintroduction units which provide shelter to protect them, and it is also where they are weaned from the milk formula. The large area has an electric fence keeping them safe from predators.

Elephant eating branches

Daily they are walked out and released into other wild elephant herds. The past orphans will greet them and show them acceptance into the group. They actually communicate with each other and assure the newcomers it is ok.  Over a period of five years, they begin to be more interested in staying out in the wild for more time than the daily walks.

By instinct, they understand they should be in the wild and they decide as they are comfortable to stay for days, weeks, months and then eventually they don’t come back. When they do leave, they are not tracked as the centre does not want to interfere with the family of wild elephants and their natural habitat.

Babies playing

However, they often do see the released orphans as they grow up.  There have been times when an orphan has returned with their wild friends for help – for instance when there has been no food or water, or one is injured – they know they can return for assistance.

They have also had mothers return with their babies to show how well they are doing.  The saying that ‘elephants never forget’ is true as the elephants always know their keepers even if the visit is many, many years later.

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How Much Does It Cost To Adopt An Elephant In Kenya?

The program has been very successful having returned more than 300 elephants to the wild. However, it is very expensive to keep the elephants – costing $1000 per month, per elephant.   The trust has a wonderful adoption program where you can help support an elephant with a $50.00 annual donation

adoption table at the elephant orphanage Nairobi

While there, we adopted Ahmed who was orphaned when her mother died from a severe infection likely due to a tusk wound. She was found guarding her mother’s body and rescued from Tsavo West National Park. Collectively, we can help further the Sheldrick’s important work.

Interesting Facts About Elephants

  • Their lifespan is between 60-70 years of age
  • Elephants flap their ears as a means of cooling themselves
  • When they want to warn others of they raise up their ears and spread them wide
  • If they trumpet and spread their ears it means they are happy
  • Elephants begin to conceive between 10-15 years of age and gestation lasts for 22 months
  • Elephant’s tusks are very important to them as they need them for digging for water and also for defence

Other Animals At The Orphanage

As mentioned, there are two rhinos also currently living at the orphanage. The first is Maxwell who is 18 years old and blind. It was initially thought that they would be able to assist with his sight but unfortunately, it wasn’t possible, and it means that he will live forever at the centre since he wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild without sight. 

He doesn’t typically come out as he does not enjoy crowds. And there is also Raha (meaning joy) who came to the nursery at 3 months of age. She is currently 15 months old.

Rhino housing

On the way out look around to see the warthogs that also wander the grounds. We came across a mama with her piglets. We learned that warthogs only have a memory retention of 60 seconds. So oftentimes they will be doing something and then not remember why they are doing it!

Warthog family

So don’t be surprised if you see a warthog running and then come to a stop – he has likely forgotten why he was running in the first place. If you remember the warthog in The Lion King – his name was Pumbaa – which in Swahili means stupid. Kind of sad for this species.

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Where Is The Elephant Orphanage Nairobi Location?

The elephant orphanage is located within the Nairobi National Park. You can enter through the KWS Mbagathi Gate. The sign out front is titled Kenya Wildlife Services – Central Workshop.

Entrance to National Park

How Much Does It Cost To Go To The Elephant Orphanage In Nairobi?

There is a fee of approximately $43.00 USD per person to enter the Nairobi National Park where the elephant orphanage is located. Additionally, there is a $20.00 USD cost for adults and $5.00 USD cost for children to enter the orphanage site.

What Are The Elephant Orphanage Nairobi Opening Hours?

The visiting time for the baby elephants is only available between 11:00am – 12:00pm each day. They are available to see every day except December 25.

What Should You Bring And What To Wear At The Elephant Orphanage

The viewing area is not covered so it is recommended that you wear a hat and apply sunscreen. Also depending on the weather, the area can become very muddy so keep this in mind when choosing appropriate footwear.

There are no refreshments provided at the centre. They do allow water to be brought in but no other food or snacks.

Final Word…On The Elephant Orphanage Nairobi

The visit to the elephant nursery was the highlight of our time spent in Nairobi. It is very special to be able to interact with these baby elephants and see how they are so well cared for by their keepers.

You could tell by the crowd’s reaction that everyone felt the same – grateful for the important work being done here and the opportunity to be a small part of it. A visit to Nairobi would not be complete without planning a David Sheldrick elephant orphanage visit. Be sure to add it to your bucket list.

Our picture at the Sheldrick nursery and one of the things to do in Nairobi in one day