The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi: an ethical animal experience

elephant orphanage in Nairobi - Ethical tourism
Baby elephants return to the Sheldrick orphanage in Nairobi

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a true bright spot in the struggle to save the elephants of East Africa. And one of the best places to visit for ethical animal tourism. When my husband surprised me with a safari in Tanzania, I added in a day in Kenya to visit the extraordinary Nairobi elephant orphanage.

What is Ethical Wildlife Tourism?

Ethical wildlife tourism allows people to enjoy animals without endangering their welfare or environment. When done right, the community and the visitor benefit, and the animals are free to live a natural life. How can you tell if the experience you’re considering is ethical? Are the animals healthy? Well fed? Are they free to express their natural behaviors? What is the purpose of the activity?

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The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, originally the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, was established in 1977 by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. It has grown over the years to become one of the most successful animal welfare foundations in Africa. Over 100 elephants, found as orphans and raised by the trust, are now living wild lives in Tsavo National Park in Kenya. And from these elephants more than 25 calves have been born. This is a significant success story.

The foundation does not confine itself to orphan elephants. It has expanded its mission to include anti-poaching programs – aerial surveillance, wildlife rangers, and a canine unit – and community outreach programs. In addition it operates a mobile veterinary team that treats any injured animals in the parks. The work this team does is amazing. Recently, trust rangers pulled a bull elephant from a deep mud wallow as he fought off his rescuers, and treated a lioness with an arrow in her side. (Follow the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on Instagram or Facebook to be continuously impressed with their good work.)

Mission Statement of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embraces all measures that complement the conservation, preservation and protection of wildlife and habitats.

Working across Kenya, our projects include anti-poaching, safe guarding the natural environment, enhancing community awareness, addressing animal welfare issues, providing veterinary assistance to animals in need, rescuing and hand rearing elephant and rhino orphans, along with other species that can ultimately enjoy a quality of life in wild terms when grown.

Young elephant at the Sheldrick orphanage during the morning visit
Why we choose to support the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

I have always had a thing for elephants. They are a remarkable species – a bit ungainly at first glance, but extremely intelligent and sensitive. They mourn their dead, care for their young and their elders, and seem able to communicate over very long distances. There is probably more that we don’t know about elephants than what we do know. Unfortunately, the species is threatened with extinction due to poaching and human/animal conflict. Time is running out for us to save them.

We learned of the trust when we took our first trip to Africa. After being awed by the elephants we saw, we adopted a feisty little bull elephant Simaron. He has since left the nursery and is living with a group of young males.

Once you adopt an elephant, you’ll get newsletters from the trust and updates on your calf. And of course, you begin following DSWT on social media. Which is where we were introduced to Mgebu, a sweet little girl who had a strong maternal streak. She became our second orphan.

Getting to Kenya is difficult, but the Sheldrick Trust engages with its supporters on social media and through worldwide fundraisers, like the Elephant Runs held in NYC, London, and LA. I participated in the Central Park run with my granddaughter, so it was a given that I’d adopt an orphan for her. Malkia, her foster, has since successfully left the nursery in Nairobi.

Elephant baby at the Sheldrick Elephant orphanage
Visiting the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi: Hours and Information

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant project has four units. Two locations in Tsavo East national park and one in the Kibwezi forest are where the older elephants live before heading off on their own. The youngest elephants live at the Nairobi elephant orphanage.

The first few weeks and months after rescue of critical to the calf’s survival. Therefore, these elephant babies, most under three years of age, are cared for 24 hours a day. If you are interested in visiting elephant babies, plan a visit to the orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are two visiting sessions daily for the Sheldrick elephant orphanage in Nairobi. One is for the general public and one for those who sponsor an orphan with the trust.

FAQs from Sheldrick Wildlife Trust including Visit Info

Elephant orphanage visit- general public:

  • The Nairobi elephant orphanage is open to the general public from 11 to Noon daily.
  • Elephant orphanage entrance fee: 500 Kenyan shillings per person (about $7 USD)

The general public session is a great way to visit the elephants and learn about the trust. If you visit, a staff member will direct you to a roped-off area. From this safe distance you will watch the elephants return for their mid-morning milk break. The head keeper introduces each elephant as it arrives, sharing the reason it was orphaned and its current status. Arrive early as this is a popular event – ~10:30 at the latest.

You’ll have a chance to sponsor an elephant and purchase souvenirs at the end of the session.

Elephant orphanage visit- Sheldrick Wildlife Trust sponsors:

Those who have adopted an elephant have another opportunity to visit at 5 pm. when the babies return to their stockades. This visit is by appointment only and fills up fast. Make a reservation as soon as you book your trip to Nairobi.

At this session, a smaller group of visitors are led into the woods. Again you stand behind a rope as the elephants run by on their way home for the night. Incredibly cute. After they settle, you will have the opportunity to explore the stockades, greeting the elephants, and chatting with the keepers.

FAQ: I sponsor an elephant. Should I attend the morning public session, or just the afternoon session?

In our experience the answer is a unanimous – Go to BOTH if possible. The morning session is very informative, a great chance to hear about each elephant orphan, and is the only opportunity to purchase a souvenir (though the online store sells some great things!).

The afternoon session is less structured but allows you to feel like part of the family. Visiting your orphan and chatting with the keepers is a real treat.

The afternoon visit is the only opportunity to meet other nursery inhabitants, like Maxwell, the blind rhino.

The visit to the Sheldrick elephant orphanage was at the top of our list when we planned our East Africa safari. If you’re ready to take your ‘trip of a lifetime’ read: 10 Steps to the Perfect Luxury Safari

Giraffe Center in Nairobi is close to the Sheldrick elephant orphanage
Other attractions in the area of the Sheldrick elephant orphanage in Nairobi

The Giraffe Centre (Duma Rd., Nairobi) – a conservation area for endangered Rothschild giraffes. Open 9 am – 5 pm. This is a fun activity for everyone, especially families. Admission to the center includes a bag of giraffe pellets which you can feed to these beautiful animals. There is also a small museum, snack bar, and gift shop. 

Kazuri Beads (Karen, Nairobi) – visit the women-run workshop to see how these gorgeous beads are made. Two single moms from the community founded this company in 1975. Though now employing over 350 people, it continues to benefit the disadvantaged of Nairobi. This is a great stop for gifts to take home to your family. (In addition to some lovely necklaces, we purchased a bag of individual beads for our grandchildren to string.)

Utamaduni Artisans Center (Langata South Road, Karen, Nairobi) – one of the best artisan markets in Nairobi. The garden restaurant there is a lovely shady place to grab lunch.

Karen Blixen museum (Karen Rd, Nairobi) – of primary interest to those who have read Danish author, Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa. You can tour the grounds and the home.

Group tours to the elephant orphanage in Nairobi

A great option for people with limited time is to book a group tour. Viator offers tours from Nairobi, many of which include a visit to the giraffe center, the Karen Blixen home, and/or the Nairobi National Park. Some of the best offered by Viator:

Elephant Orphanage Tour from Nairobi with optional giraffe center – a great tour for people with limited time. They will pick you up at your Nairobi hotel and transport you to the Sheldrick orphanage.

Best Nairobi Day Trip:Nairobi National Park, Elephant Orphanage & Giraffe Center – If your holiday in Kenya does not include a safari this full day tour is a great opportunity to see a little of what the safari is like. Pickup from your Nairobi hotel, several hours in the national park and visits to both animal sanctuaries.

Nairobi National Park, Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Center and Karen Blixen Museum – another full day, small group tour that’ll give a taste of the astonishing wildlife of Kenya.

More Sheldrick Wildlife organized tours

Where to stay in Nairobi if you’re visiting the Sheldrick elephant orphanage

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage nursery unit is in Nairobi National Park. You can stay anywhere in Nairobi and arrange for a driver to the trust, but it’s easier if you stay east of the city near the park or in the Karen area. Book WAY ahead to stay in the Giraffe Manor, where giraffes will join you for breakfast. $$$$

Hotels convenient to the Sheldrick elephant orphanage – all about 30 minutes to the sanctuary.

  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Nairobi Arboretum
  • GemSuites Riverside
  • Our choice: we stayed at the Ole Sereni hotel on the grounds of the National Park. It was a lovely setting, close to the airport, and only 25 minutes to the elephant orphanage. The hotel was beautifully appointed, with a pool overlooking the park, and three restaurants. 
  • Luxury hotel option: Hemingways Nairobi. Listed as one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this gracious hotel is a lovely spot for a few days in Nairobi. We met many on safari who had stayed here and recommended it highly!
If you’re combining your visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust with a luxury safari, consider adding one of these game lodges to your itinerary- Guide to the Best Luxury Safari Lodges

How to support the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

You are only a click away from sponsoring your own elephant. The minimum donation is USD $50 a year. You will be able to choose which elephant appeals to you and can follow the elephants progress as the years go by.

Buy an elephant a much-needed gift – shop the wish list

As most people like knowing where their money goes, the trust offers the Sheldrick Trust wishlist. You can buy milk for the babies, or wire cutters to free animals caught in snares, wheelbarrows, and many, many more things the trust needs to fulfill its mission.

Get the ridiculously cute gear

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust USA store has some wonderful elephant themed gifts for you and your family.

MEMOIRLove, Life and Elephants by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

The first person to successfully raise newborn elephants, Dame Daphne Sheldrick has saved countless African animals from certain death. In this indelible and deeply heartfelt memoir, Daphne tells of her remarkable career as a conservationist …She also shares the incredible human story of her relationship with David Sheldrick, the famous Tsavo National Park warden whose death inspired the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the orphans’ nursery.

 The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

Lawrence Anthony devoted his life to animal conservation, protecting the world’s endangered species. Then he was asked to accept a herd of “rogue” wild elephants on his Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand. His common sense told him to refuse, but he was the herd’s last chance of survival: they would be killed if he wouldn’t take them. In order to save their lives, Anthony took them in. In the years that followed he became a part of their family. And as he battled to create a bond with the elephants, he came to realize that they had a great deal to teach him about life, loyalty, and freedom.

 Remembering Elephants by Wildlife Photographers United

A collection of stunning and heartbreaking photographs, with proceeds going towards protecting African elephants.


For more information on finding humane wildlife experiences read How to Enjoy Authentic and Ethical Animal Tourism

Support visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi rescues orphaned elephants and transitions them back to the wild.
Ethical Wildlife Tourism - the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage in Nairobi
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20 thoughts on “The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi: an ethical animal experience

  1. This looks like an AMAZING experience! I’ve heard great things about Nairobi and the elephant orphanages there. I’m curious though, did you feel safe at all times there? I’ve heard very mixed things about Africa and safety and since I’ve never been to Africa I don’t have much to compare it to 🙂

    1. Hi Josefine, honestly we were concerned about staying in Nairobi. Our hotel had very strong security in place, which made us feel safe. We had no negative experiences while touring Nairobi and absolutely nothing worrisome in any of the game parks.

      We’d heard a lot of scary things (including from the state department) when we traveled to Africa five years ago. And again we had no issues.

      Sadly several cities in the U.S. are listed as more dangerous than Nairobi. But we travel to those cities and take sensible precautions. Do the same in Africa and you will be fine.

      Thanks for bringing up this topic.

  2. This is seriously bucket list worthy! I would love to visit the elephant orphanage one day! Hmmm….Maybe I’ll start by gifting my kids a sponsorship for Christmas!

  3. What a wonderful place to visit! I just have to do this now. But probably I’ll want to hug all the orphan elephants.

  4. Talk about ethical travel as it relates to animals sparks all kinds of conversation in the travel space. I like the way you covered the issue here. Very informative. Thanks.

  5. There a lot of conversation around ethical travel as it relates to animals in the travel space. I like the way you covered the issue here. Very informative. Thanks

  6. These seems like an amazing life changing and educational experience! Enjoyed reading about it! Shared on my Pinterest.

  7. This is such a great read. I love anything that is about the nurturing of wildlife. This is a place O would definitely want to visit. I also have a friend who adores elephants so I’ll forward it on to them too.

  8. This has been a dream of mine since I read Dame Daphne’s autobiography. Both her and her husband were leading lights in animal conservation and I too support the Foundation. Thank you for sharing your experience, it’s just been bumped up my list quite a few places!

  9. We will be in Nairobi in December, but only spending one night as we pass through on our way to Diani. I’m gonna look at our schedule though and see if we might be able to squeeze in a tour to the elephant sanctuary…maybe the giraffe center too. Great article and great ideas. Thanks so much!

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