The baby elephants at Daphne Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage, on the edge of Nairobi National Park, have been orphaned by poaching and other causes. They are taken in, cared for, and ultimately reintroduced into the wild.

Orphaned elephants at the Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

While the tragic circumstances of their arrival is depressing, the atmosphere and relationship the elephants have with their keepers is very moving.

For the new arrivals, they are so traumatized by losing their family that a keeper must sleep in their stall to keep them company. They are fed from bottles from behind a blanket to replicate the shade their mother’s belly would provide.

Orphaned Elephants at Daphne Scheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Not only do they get the care from the keeper, but the other elephants quickly adopt them and protect them as we’ve seen in the wild.

The latest addition, Kinango, barely comes up to my knee.

Yao Ming with Kinango, a two-week old orphaned elephant at Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

He’s only two weeks old and is here because of poaching – his mother was killed for her ivory tusks.

Yao Ming with Kinango, an Orphaned Elephant at Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

He pushes against me partly for contact, but also testing his strength.

Yao Ming with Kinango, an Orphaned Elephant at Daphne Sheldrick's Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

He greedily guzzles the milk formula I feed him from a bottle.

Yao Ming with Kinango, an Orphaned Elephant at Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Every day, a parade of elephants walks out into the park to feed and exercise. It’s a chaotic, comical bustle as they charge around looking for tasty leaves and wrestle with each other by locking trunks and shoving backwards and forwards.

Yao Ming observing two elephants wrestling at the Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

They like to lean on you and push against you, but can also be very gentle with their amazing trunks – displaying both strength and precision. The little ones are quite hairy with dense black bristle. They lose this hair as they grow. I also notice how warm the babies are – their skin is thinner and they loose heat quickly so they are kept with blankets wrapped over them to keep out the morning chill.

Just like human babies, they need to be fed regularly – every three hours.

Yao Ming Feeding an Orphan Elephant at Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

At one point, something in the bush scares them and they all stampede through our group and despite the chaos, they manage to avoid us. Though, everyone counts their toes afterwards since even these little guys weigh several hundred pounds.

Orphaned Elephants at Daphne Sheldrick Orphanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

The good news is the orphanage has perfected the process and if the bables can survive the first few weeks and take to food, they can usually make it to be eventually released to join a wild herd. The bad news is they may not be safe from poachers once back in the wild.

Visiting the orphanage is a fantastic experience. It is open to the public, which helps subsidize the considerable cost of this rehabilitation.

On the way out, we turn a corner to come face-to-face with large black rhino wandering loose.

A Black Rhino Orphan at Daphne Sheldrick Orpahanage

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Check back to find out what happens…


24 responses

  1. Nina Küttner

    Elefants are gorgious animals!!
    I’m laying in my bed Reading Out this Sweet Story it felt to my like i am a Child again… Tank you for that great Good Night Story. Hope every man will become peaceful with this gorgious Giants
    Good Night, Nina

    August 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm

  2. norma warden

    When all the Elephants are dead (extinct) the greedy poachers will be out of a job and people will have to live without Ivory. I hope the ivory trade is banished before it gets to that point to have mercy on these majestic treasures of the Earth.
    Yao, your beautiful writing will help so many people understand, You have done a wonderfull thing. Thank you.

    August 25, 2012 at 6:05 am

  3. Marilyn Nathanson

    I visited the DSWT in June – have been fostering elephants there for a year (have 7 now). What a moving experience and how wonderful (for our world) that the elephants have the love and dedication of Daphne Sheldrick and her organization.

    August 25, 2012 at 7:29 am

  4. I really like your photos, but the most important is you are helping the animals. Thank you!! Thank you!!!

    August 25, 2012 at 7:44 am

  5. N Ashley

    Thank you for doing this amazing work and I too have visited the orphanage, in 2011, and I had the privilege of meeting many of the babies there. I will never forget how Tano held out her trunk to me as a greeting offering for me to gently blow into her trunk to say hello. After that she started ‘trunk kissing’ me all over my face, top of my head, and on my neck. When an elephant places its trunk like this a seal is created and I could feel her ‘breathing’ me in. I was never so in the moment in all my life, and it took a baby elephant to show me how that really feels. The keeper said if Tano and I were to meet again she would remember me.

    Thus far I have fostered 16 babies and I so appreciate that David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is there to rescue them from certain death after their mothers are killed for their ivory. I will never own anything ivory and if we, as a collective society, stopped buying ivory, there would be no value whatsoever in brutally murdering elephants for something that needs to stay where it belongs, in the faces of live elephants. Please, stop killing because once the elephants are gone…we all lose.

    August 25, 2012 at 7:53 am

  6. i am SO excited Yao has chosen to bring attention to Africa’s poaching crisis!! He truly does stand tall !

    August 25, 2012 at 8:35 am

  7. Nathalie

    Your work is crucial for the survival of these beautiful and intelligent creatures. Please carry on and I hope you will be supported and followed and that you will be able to make a change among the young generations who therefore will no longer feel compelled to buy ivory products as a social status marker!

    August 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

  8. Lourdes Almeyda

    Thank you for your interest in these wonderful animals, hopefully you can get people to stop buying ivory in Asia.

    August 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

  9. Mary-Adair Macaire

    Yao. Thank you for sharing this trip to DSWT. The work Dame Sheldrick is doing is so important! And, your voice has power to help change people’s minds and help stop the ivory and rhino horn trade. I hope you continue to support this cause and make a positive difference in the lives of these beautiful and worthy creatures.

    August 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

  10. betty murphy

    I think I am going to have to close my eyes and just point to an ele’s name in the fostering list…….:-)))))))I am so thankful for all who care so deeply about them!!!!!!!

    August 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

  11. Karen A.

    As a Houstonian my husband and I loved to watch you play basketball. This effort you are making on behalf of these orphans makes me so proud to know that you were once a Houstonian. Please keep up the good work. If anyone can change the minds and win the hearts of the Chinese people it is you. You are a hero on and off the court.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:25 am

  12. ElnorEggart

    A matriarch myself; I would love to be able to sleep word them and feed them. I truly love the work you are doing for the wild animals and in particular the elephants. I share all your news and photos on my Facebook.
    Ellie Eggart

    August 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  13. Mandy

    Thankyou Yao. We must keep reminding everyone.

    August 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

  14. Pam Leal

    I wish you could come to my David Sheldrick Trust Benefit in Austin, Texas this November. You are doing a great job!!

    August 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm

  15. Mary

    Every night I visit the David Sheldrick Wildelife Trust Facebook page and website. I find these animals to be magnificent in every way. The adults are almost as vulnerable as the babies. I foster Kithaka and will continue to donate every year. I am hoping that DSWT and other organizations, governments, and civilians help save and nurture the elephants. The sweet orphans long for their mothers, and many die of heartbreak. It is hard on the keepers. For those who find the spark, DSWT saves their lives and brings them joy. And one of the greatest things is watching the other elephants love and comfort the new babies.
    Yao Ming- THANK YOU!!!! I hope your message makes an impact!!!

    August 25, 2012 at 7:01 pm

  16. Glenda Daly

    Thank you so much for what you are doing. Getting the message out about the plight of these endangered species that are being poached unnecessaarily for their horns and tusks. You truly are a hero.

    August 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

  17. A. MagicFan

    Yao has become my #1 sports and conservation hero for speaking out against poaching. When someone with his “worldwide” brand decides to champion such a cause, I really believe cultural beliefs will change and exploitation of animals can be reduced.

    August 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  18. Good job Yao! Love and respect from the Philippines.

    August 27, 2012 at 9:10 pm

  19. Great photos. Kenya is such a beautiful country.

    August 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

  20. Chris

    It is fitting that the world’s largest land animal is being saved by one of the human race’s largest specimens – go Yao !

    September 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

  21. Thank you so much for shedding more light on this horrible decimation of a fellow species-as a taiwanese-chinese I think it is awesome that you may be able to bring focus to the widespread use of exotic animal products for “health” benefits in Asia and the superficial need for ivory tusks that is still rampant right now. We need more public figures like you!!!

    September 7, 2012 at 8:46 am

  22. Catherine

    I am sad to report that precious baby Kinango died yesterday. I was a foster parent to him. The poachers are responsible for his death. He did not have his mother long enough to to be protected by her life protecting milk.

    October 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm

  23. Jacques Aldapa

    when it comes to exotic animals, i really love the chincilla because they look very cute.^

    Our blog page
    <a href="

    January 13, 2013 at 8:22 am

  24. Pingback: September 14: Dozens of Orphans and Old Friends | Yao's Journey to Africa

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