Kenya 6/19/06 - Steph's Birthday, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, Giraffe Centre

Today is my birthday! We were awakened at 5:15 am by one ring of the telephone. There was noone there. We went back to sleep and woke up at 7:30. It was a very good thing that we were awake because almost immediately kids started screaming at each other in the hallway outside our room. We took showers. We laughed that the shower glass was labeled "Impala Tuff". We went to breakfast at around 8:30. There was a chef making omelettes to order. Craig got a ham, cheese, and onion omelette. There was also a buffet. We had pancakes, bacon, potatoes, a cube of French toast, and honey millett porridge with mumias sugar. There were fresh juices (a thick nectar-y mango and a lighter thinner passionfruit). We had very tasty yoghurt and French press coffee. While eating, we realized we forgot the key in the room. After breakfast we asked a lobby employee if someone could let us in. She laughed and said we are all human. She called housekeeping, who showed up at the room immediately and, laughing, let us in to the room.

We got ready for our 10:00 meeting with Lobo. Today we were supposed to visit the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Center. We had seen the Sheldrick Orphanage on "Globe Trekker", and our parents had seen it on "60 Minutes". It was also the subject of the BBC program "Elephant Diaries." The work that they do is very noble, rescuing orphaned elephants and rhinos, raising them with love, and reintroducing them to the wild. After seeing it on TV, we realized we had to go there. At 9:45, the phone rang. "Mr. Craig? My name is Lobo. We will leave at 10:30. Is that ok?" So we had some time to kill. I wrote in the journal, and at 10:15 we headed to the lobby. Lobo was waiting and introduced us to Patrick, our driver/guide. He introduced us as "Mr. Craig and Mrs. Craig". We smiled at each other.

We got into the mustard-colored Land Cruiser and headed off through the city. We noticed that the windows in the Land Cruiser were also "Impala Tuff". Apparently this is the name of safety glass, such as is used in windshields or other critical applications. We noticed that all Nairobians seem to be very sharply dressed. Everyone we saw on the street was looking really good. Patrick explained that a lot of people come to the city dressed up, looking to be hired on a per diem basis. This is very common so you just never know when you might be working on any given day. There was a lot of traffic in the city, and the pollution was very bad. It has been a long time since we saw that kind of exhaust coming out of cars at home. People drive on the left, and it is pretty crazy, but still nothing compared to what we saw back in Lima, Peru. Despite what they may say about Boston drivers we had never seen anything even close to this at home. We were very happy to have Patrick driving us around rather than us trying to get around ourselves. We passed the famous Carnivore Restaurant near the airport. Patrick stopped at a ForEx Bureau, and we changed $100 with no commission and no paperwork at all. That was quick and easy!

Then we continued on to the Sheldrick Animal Orphanage, which is on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park. We saw some baboons sitting on a wall on the perimeter of the park. The Sheldrick is open from 11-12 daily for visitors, and we arrived at 11:04. We walked to the roped-off viewing area. There were two keepers there with a baby rhino at a distance, and there were several other keepers with baby bottles, a soccer ball, and a large rubber inner tube, waiting for the baby elephants. The two keepers led the rhino away, and some other keepers brought in their seven baby elephants, ranging in age from 9 months to 23 months. They were absolutely adorable. The keepers bottle-fed them and they just sucked down the milk. The smallest baby was drinking milk with his head covered in blankets. That is the only way he will eat. One of the larger babies went over to the inner tube and laid down on it. The keepers played football (soccer) with the babies. We were right against the rope and at several times the babies brushed up against us. We reached out and patted them on the back and felt their sparse, coarse, wiry black hair. At one point the baby kicked the soccer ball to me and I kicked it back. It then did the same to Craig. It was adorable to see them kicking the ball backwards and forwards with their feet, and swinging their trunks wildly to bat at the ball. It was great to play soccer with an elephant, especially in honor of the World Cup which was currently going on. One person kept the ball under his foot and rolled it back and forth. The baby elephant went nuts trying to bat it with its trunk. It was good-natured teasing and was really cute to watch.

The keepers were telling us all kinds of facts, but it was difficult to digest them all and still take in all of the action and take photos all at once. They talked about how Daphne Sheldrick was the sole keeper for one elephant, and that when she had to leave the country for a month it died because it wouldn't let anyone else feed it and it wouldn't sleep in her absence. They learned from that tragic experience and now they rotate the keepers so that the elephants don't get too attached to any one person. Keepers even sleep in the stalls with the elephants at night. They are totally devoted to them, and you can tell how much they love them by watching their interaction. And you can tell that the elephants love them as well.

The elephants played in the mud puddles and the keepers shovelled muddy water onto them. The babies all wanted a turn with the inner tube and would pig pile on top of one another on top of it. The tire tube was clearly a big hit with the elephants as there was always at least one playing with it, bouncing on it, laying on it, it didn't matter, they clearly loved it. We wondered what would happen if it popped. Would the elephant react the way a child might when they finally pop that balloon they have been playing with all day? Elephants are very social creatures and obviously enjoyed close physical contact with each other and with the humans too. One smaller baby was sticking its trunk right up into a larger one's ear. Everywhere you looked they kept doing something very cute. They would scratch their ankles with their feet, resulting in them standing cross-legged like they were doing a curtsey. It was absolutely adorable.

The keepers said that they release their baby rhinos into Nairobi National Park, but the park is too small to sustain elephant populations. So elephants are introduced to Tsavo National Park, where the late David Sheldrick (Daphne's husband) had been game warden. When reintroducing elephants to the wild, they have to be very careful. It is a delicate process and they can't make the elephant feel as though it is being kicked out of the orphanage. Sometimes it takes up to 10 years to introduce them into the wild. But all of the babies who have been reintroduced so far have been accepted by elephant families. When the babies are grown and have babies of their own, they bring them back to meet the keepers. Also, when they are sick or injured, they often come back, knowing they will be cared for. Elephants are very susceptible to pneumonia as their lungs are attached to their ribs and they are incapable of coughing. Because of this, while they are very young, they sleep under blankets to keep them warm. At exactly 11:58, the babies started to line up. They knew it was time to go. One laid down as if for one final photo op and then they filed off with their keepers. The hour had gone by so quickly. The sun was hot and I could feel it on the tops of my sandaled feet.

We went to the little souvenir stand and adoption area. You could adopt a baby for $50 and would be given email updates. It was a great way to help the orphanage and you even get something in return. We didn't know which to adopt, so I asked about the smallest one (who drank with his head under a blanket). His name was Zurura. He had been rescued after falling into a ruby mine at age 8 weeks, and his name was given to him by the miners. It means "Wanderer" in Swahili. We were told that as foster parents, we could come back at 5:15 for elephant bedtime. We knew we had an orientation meeting with Lobo and the Maasai Environmental Resource Coalition at 5:00, so it seemed unlikely, but was very tempting. We were given the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's yearly report, some postcards, and a photo of Zurura. We bought T-shirts, a little resin elephant laying down, and a PAL DVD about the Trust's work in Tsavo National Park. We were so excited and invigorated by the whole experience. It was a great introduction to Africa. We met up with Patrick and got back into the car. As we drove off we saw a warthog on the side of the road. Patrick laughed and said it was "Pumba" and that he retired here after the filming of "The Lion King"

We then drove to the Giraffe Centre, where they care for the endangered Rothschild Giraffe. They gave you food pellets and you could feed the giraffes from the ground level or from a platform up at their eye level. They had long black tongues and would lick the food out of your palm. There were warthogs wandering around at their feet. We went up onto the platform and watched for a while. A group of rather boisterous folks asked one of the volunteers a question and then walked away before even hearing the answer. Craig saw this and immediately joined in and began to talk with Newton, a university student who was volunteering there. He was very nice and told us that Rothschild giraffes' main distinguishing characteristic are their "white socks" (they have no spots below the knee). People were feeding them by holding a bit of food in their mouths and letting the giraffes lick it out. A sort of giraffe French kiss. We had known about this and couldn't see ourselves doing it, but we got caught up in the moment. How many opportunities do you get to kiss a giraffe anyway? It was hysterical. Newton made sure we had plenty of time with the giraffes and got some good photos. He pointed out Giraffe Manor in the distance, a small hotel where you can stay and feed giraffes from your window.

We went inside the Giraffe Centre's central building and admired the conservation-themed artwork of local students. Every year they have an art contest and send the winning children on a trip to a national park. We gave a donation to the centre and then went to the gift shop and bought a wooden giraffe, a magnet, some postcards, little "drum" pencils for our nephews, and a Maasai statue. We were able to use a credit card which was handy. Early in the trip we wanted to be careful spending too much of our cash. We then went to another gift shop and bought some awesome Maasai dolls. We had to use cash here, and I negotiated to get a carved wooden bird statue as well. On the way out we passed some leopard tortoises, a couple of which were trying to escape over the short stone wall. Patrick drove us through Karen, a wealthy neighborhood named after Karen Blixen (of "Out of Africa" fame). There were lots of very fancy houses and a brand new private hospital. It seemed a little out of place considering some of the other homes we saw in the area.

Patrick dropped us off at the hotel at around 2:00. We couldn't stop thinking about the elephants. We wanted to go back for bedtime, yet we didn't want to cause strife by messing with our schedule. We were torn, but then realized we would always regret it if we didn't make an effort. Craig called Nature Expeditions to see if there was anything that could be done. They made several calls and then called us back and told us that Patrick would pick us up at the hotel at 3:20. They wanted to allow plenty of time to deal with rush hour traffic.We ran into Bill and told him what we were doing, and that we were sorry we were missing tonight's MERC meeting. He wasn't concerned by it. It turned out that Lobo would reschedule the meeting for the morning and that there was no problem at all. We were told to go and enjoy the time with the elephants. When Patrick arrived (right on time), we apologized to him for making him work an extra shift, but he was quite pleasant and said not to worry about it. He prefers being out and about to sitting in the office anyway. He said that he wants us "to be very happy, not just happy". As we drove we saw someone walking a camel on the side of the road. Not something we are used to seeing, even here it seemed different.

Patrick apologized and said that he needed to stop at a gas station to get a snack. We said no problem. He was ready to run in by himself but we said that we wanted to see what they had, so we went into the Forest Edge Karen Mobil "On The Run" with him. When we realized he wanted food, not just a little candy bar or something, we said we would like to eat something too. Patrick ordered a foot-long pork hot dog, and we decided to do the same. We love to do as the locals do. We're normally pretty low-maintenance - we don't need fancy restaurants. Gas station hot dogs are fine with us. We sat at a small table near the ubiquitous Nairobi security guard. We had Fantas to drink. Craig and Patrick put some salsa relish on their dogs, and I put mustard and ketchup. The bun was as long as the dog, and the meal really hit the spot. We were practically at the Sheldrick and had some time to kill, so we sat and chatted for a little while. We realized that we had a lot in common. Patrick is currently building a house. His wife Petronila just got her master's in IT and is doing teaching work. He helps his sister with her children's education. He has two boys of his own (George is 10 and away at boarding school, and Ian is 5 and lives at home). Craig, eyeballing the little booth adjacent to the hot dogs, asked if Patrick wanted an ice cream and Patrick lit up and said that was a great idea. We went up to the "Creamy Inn" counter and each got a small soft serve strawberry vanilla swirl cone. Yum! Patrick seemed very pleased and kept telling Craig "That was a great idea". We knew how much we were going to enjoy his company already. Patrick was a very nice guy!

At 4:40, we left, arriving at the orphanage at 5:00. As I got out of the Land Cruiser, I almost hit my head. We told Patrick that I had hit my head on the way to the airport. He laughed and said that he would make me a rock helmet to weigh my head down. There were about 15 other visitors there to experience elephant bedtime. We waited near the stalls, and the keepers led Shida the rhino in and put him in his cage for the night. We got to look at him through the cage and though he was just two years old he was very big an intimidating. He had a very big horn and rubbed it against the steel bars of the gate. He looked like a dinosaur. He sucked down about 5 gallons of milk, one large bottle at a time. The Sheldrick Trust suffered a tragedy when a beloved keeper was accidentally killed by a rhino that they had reintroduced into the wild. It was a very unfortunate accident where they bumped into each other in the wild, neither seeing the other, and the rhino responded as rhinos will do. He tossed the keeper and then became very agitated and upset. Seeing Shida up close, you could tell that these animals could kill you on the spot without trying very hard.

At around 5:25, the keepers walked the baby elephants to their stables. They each went into their respective stable. A keeper went with each one and fed them milk. Each stall had a keeper's mattress and blanket off to the side, and an elephant blanket and sleeping pad hanging up on the other side. There was also a blanket hung up on the back wall of the stable. We learned that Zurura was in the stable to the far left, and we spent a lot of time silently observing him. He explored the hanging blanket with his trunk, sniffing it a lot. After all was quiet and we were the only two watching Zurura, he went over to his mattress pad and pulled it down from the wall with his trunk. Next he pulled down his blanket. He was ready for bed. The keeper spread out the mattress pad and Zurura keeled over onto it like dead weight. It was so cute. The keeper covered him with a blanket and he was all snuggled in ready for sleep. We were silently watching, and then a woman came over and started talking loudly. The keeper shushed her as Zurura stirred. The keeper was aware that Craig and I had been very quiet and respectful. As we were walking away from the stable, Craig mouthed "thank you" to the keeper and he mouthed it back. Lala salama, Zurura (Goodnight, Wanderer!)

Before leaving for the night we stopped and observed another baby named Sian preparing to go to sleep. This one was distinctive as there was a pair of very small tusks beginning to show. While exploring the stable, the elephant next door poked his trunk through the wall and touched trunks with Sian. It was so sweet! As we moved away from the stables we saw a cat who looked just like our cat Blackie. There was also a warthog wandering around and walking right through the camp. By now almost all of the babies were down for the night, so we met up with Patrick and left. As we were driving out of the dirt parking lot we saw a herd of impala wandering by.

Patrick took an alternate route back to avoid traffic. He said it was a longer drive but less traffic. That was fine by us as we wanted to drive a new way anyway. We had already driven here twice today so we would be happy seeing something new. This route brought us past the "slums" (as Patrick called them) and we saw lots of roadside stalls where folks were selling all sorts of things, from furniture and tombstones. Everyone used their skills to make a variety of items and had them up for sale. It was like a huge market that ran along the length of the street. People were welding things and tending fires. It was all very interesting to see.

We got back to the hotel at about 6:30 or 7. We came up to the room to freshen up and then went to the Lord Delamere Terrace for dinner. We got a nice secluded table. George walked by and said, "Welcome back my good friends!" He apologized for not having time to chat, but tonight was very busy. Over the course of dinner, Craig tried to sample all of the remaining beers they offered here at the Norfolk. This was our last night at the hotel. Just in case he didn't see all these same brands elsewhere he thought he'd just have to try them all now. He had a Tusker Malt Lager, a White Cap, a Pilsner, and a Tusker Lager. Most of these beers are much larger than at home and had a much higher alcohol content too. I was asking which one of us was celebrating my birthday afterall. I stuck with another glass of white wine. We raised a glass to our friend Roger, who shares a birthday with me. He and Gina were on a European cruise, and we hoped they were having as much fun as we were. I was feeling a little hungry but wasn't up for a huge meal so I ordered a bacon cheeseburger. Craig got a steak, kidney, and mushroom pie. For dessert, Craig was thrilled that they now had the vanilla camel milk ice cream he had wanted yesterday. It was very much like regular vanilla ice cream but different enough afterall. I had a phyllo-wrapped carmelized banana with exotic fruit sauce. After feeling quite satisfied we decided to bring a drink back to the room. I knew that I would be up for a while writing in the journal. On the way back to the room we decided to try and get a nightime photo of the hotel car. We believe it was a Model-T but aren't sure. Either way it was a gorgeous car and was still registered. We wondered if they ever take it out anywhere. We finally got back to the room at 10. I stayed up writing in the journal until 11. There was a lot to say today. This had been the best birthday ever!!
Watch a baby elephant play football with usWatch a baby elephant play football with us (20 second clip)

Watch a baby elephant play footballWatch a baby elephant play football (20 second clip)

Keepers and Shida the orphaned rhino

Elephant orphan eating lunch

Elephant orphan

Elephant orphan

Elephant orphan

Elephant orphan

Elephant orphan playing football

Orphan elephant who thinks he's a cat

Rothschild giraffe

Steph feeding the Rothschild giraffe by mouth

Craig and Steph with Rothschild giraffe

Leopard tortoise trying to escape

Shida the orphan rhino being fed before bed

Zurura getting his bed ready

Goodnight, Zurura!

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