The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for orphaned elephants based in Nairobi National Park. The Trust was established in 1977 by Dame Daphne Sheldrick, DBE, in memory of her husband, the late David Sheldrick, founding warden of Tsavo National Park in southern Kenya.
The young elephants have become separated from their herds due to poaching, human-wildlife conflict, getting stuck in drying waterholes or falling down wells. At the centre, the elephants are cared for 24 hours a day by a team of dedicated elephant keepers. The elephants are milk-dependent until the age of three-years. At three years old the elephants are transferred to rehabilitation centres in Tsavo for gradual integration by keepers into the wild. To date the Trust has successfully raised 190 young elephants, reintegrating them to the wild where they have formed their own family units or joined wild herds.
Thirty-two-year-old Edwin Lusichi is the Project Manager at the Nairobi Nursery. He joined the Trust as an elephant keeper in 1999, despite the fact he had no previous experience with wildlife or even seen an elephant before.
What sort of qualifications do you need to become an elephant keeper?
We train while on the job. Anybody can apply for the job, anybody who has a heart for the animals. I came because in the beginning I needed a job. But after some time it changed, it became a passion.
How can you tell if an elephant likes you?
Elephants are very intelligent. I always say the elephants can read our hearts, can tell what you think about them. If you’ve got good intentions, they want to be associated with you all the time.
How do you interact with local communities around the national parks?
We’ve got a community project based in Tsavo. We go around to the communities and we show them films on conservation and talk to them about the importance of these animals; why they need to be protected; why they are not harmful unless you provoke them; and how people can benefit from them. Some will get to believe and understand what we are saying, some will reject it and say ‘no’. We bring children to the park and teach them more about animals and not the negative that they’ve always heard.
Is your work in Tsavo having an impact with the people?
Some people have changed their ideas. Some of those who used to put out snares for game meat are not doing it. Those who are prone to it will keep on doing it. But the majority are stopping it and trying to convince their friends. Some of the people have changed and are coming to us and we employ them in the projects to keep expanding the same word.