The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, located inside Nairobi National Park, is one of the most moving places I have ever been. It is an orphanage for young elephants who have been rescued all over Kenya and brought to Nairobi. Baby elephants are not able to survive without their mothers' milk, so the staff at Sheldrick feed them a special formula that mimics elephant milk. (Milk from cows will cause them to die.) Unfortunately, Sheldrick receives more and more baby elephants all the time due to poaching. The baby elephants eventually move to another park in Kenya where they are slowly introduced to other elephants in order to join a wild herd. They have had amazing success with these transitions. The keepers' dedication and love for elephants is heartening. They feed the babies, teach them to browse for food, and even sleep in the stalls at night!
There are several opportunities to visit the baby elephants if you are in Nairobi. The elephants have a mudbath everyday at 11:00 that is open to the public. You have about an hour to view the elephants from behind a rope. It can get quite crowded, but you get to see the elephants play and interact with each other. Tickets can be purchased when you arrive (roughly $7.) At 5:00, people who have fostered an elephant are able to come see the elephants return from browsing in the forest to get their evening bottle and go to bed for the night. You are able to be quite close to the elephants and get to meet the keepers. You must foster your elephant and reserve your spot ahead of your visit. They will have your name on a list when you arrive. Fostering costs $50 a year per elephant. The fostering program is an important source of funding for the Trust. They do amazing work and I was happy to support their mission.
The orphanage is in the Karen area, and a visit can be combined with the Giraffe Center, Kazuri Beads, the Karen Blixen house, or the Utamaduni Craft Centre. Your hotel or tour operator will arrange a ride for you. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes that you can clean off and long pants to walk around the paths. For the 5:00 visit, get there at least 10 minutes early to sign in with the security guard. If you are interested in visiting, be sure to follow them on Facebook or Instagram to keep up to date with the elephants!
Check out the FAQ section if you want specifics about fostering or visiting.
Giraffe Manor is nothing short of magical and I was so happy to return for a second visit two nights in June. Our British Airways flight arrived in the evening and we encountered quite a line at immigration, but we were warmly greeted and offered drinks and dinner despite the late hour of our check in. The staff at Giraffe Manor is very helpful and friendly across the board, check in time is no exception. We stayed in Marlon's Room our first night, the only room available when we booked. It is small, and does not have giraffes visit for pre-breakfast treats. We moved to Daisy's Room the next morning, which has a small terrace and a nice view out over the patio and the wooded area where the giraffes sometimes hang out (see below.) To be sure you get a room that has giraffes come directly to the window, book very early! No matter where your room is, you will have visiting time with giraffes at breakfast, in the breakfast room and along the patio. You will also get to feed giraffes at tea time.
The giraffes begin to wander up as the sun rises. The staff is ready with large bowls of the giraffe treats that they like to eat. It is very convivial at breakfast with everyone taking each other's pictures and talking to the giraffes. They stick their heads through the windows and gather along edge of the patio. There are plenty of staff members on hand to help hand out giraffe food, take photos, direct you to safe spots to interact with giraffes, and of course, bring your breakfast!
The giraffes eventually make their way over to the Giraffe Center, leaving you to finish breakfast and get ready for whatever else you have planned. Giraffe Manor is located in Karen, near some interesting things to do. If you do not have a driver already booked as part of your travel plans, you can arrange with Giraffe Manor for rides to nearby places. Kazuri Beads, the Utamaduni Craft Market, and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (more on that later!) are all nice stops. You can also have someone walk you over to the Giraffe Center to learn more about the Rothschild Giraffe species. All meals are included in your room rate, so many people plan to head out after lunch. Lunch is on the patio when the weather is nice. A note about the food-let them know ahead if you have any dietary restrictions or special requests. There are not many choices offered, but they are happy to accommodate your needs. I had a delicious vegetarian lunch, the chef grilled some halloumi cheese for my kabob instead of the fish.
Around 5:30, the giraffes return. The staff brings out bowls of giraffe treats, as well as treats for the guests. Tea, wine, tea cakes, sandwiches, and all sorts of other snacks are served out front. Unfortunately, the cute baby giraffe was only interested in eating the landscaping, not being fed by people! When it gets dark, the giraffes leave and it is time for a nice drink by the fire and dinner. We had to leave very early the next morning, but the manager helpfully arranged for the kitchen to make us a packed breakfast to take to the airport. If you are flying from Wilson Airport, there aren't security restrictions about liquids, so you can take food and drinks with you to eat while you wait for your flight.
One of the best things we did on our New Year's trip to Whitefish, Montana was go on a dog sled ride through the beautiful Stillwater National Forest. It was amazing! I found Dog Sled Adventures, in Olney, Montana, after reading a few blogs and some TripAdvisor reviews of things to do in the Whitefish area. I was also thrilled to find a dog sled ride outfit that was owned by a fellow animal lover. The dogs at Dog Sled Adventures were mainly rescue dogs and were all treated well. Even the dogs that could no longer work remained in the dog yard and were taken care of.
When we arrived, the dogs were barking and jumping around very excitedly. They each want to go out on the rides, but only between 8-12 dogs are chosen per sled. Certain dogs partner together better, some dogs need more rest between rides-it seemed to be very much an art to get a team together and hooked up to the sled.
The afternoon we went, four sleds went out. We were bundled into the front of the sled while the musher (driver) stood on the skids at the back. It is windy when you get going fast, so lots of layers and sunglasses or goggles are necessary. The 12 mile loop takes about an hour and half, depending on how fast the dogs are running.
They can't wait to start running!
I can't recommend Dog Sled Adventures highly enough. The Lodge at Whitefish Lake helped us arrange a taxi to get out there-about 35-40 minutes from the Lodge. I did not rent a car during our stay since I was nervous about potentially driving in heavy snow. The road was actually very clear highway until we reached the driveway. A four wheel drive car would have handled it just fine. If you are thinking of booking a ride, call very far in advance. He fills the three rides a day in no time!
After a few days in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai on a quick Bangkok Airways flight. One of the activities we planned far in advance of arriving was seeing some of Thailand's famous elephants. Unfortunately, the more I researched the different elephant camps and treks found outside of the city, the more disappointed I became. Many of the elephants in the these venues are terribly mistreated and live horrible lives. However, I read about the Elephant Nature Park and was happy to find an elephant experience that was humane. The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants (and cats and dogs!) from Northern Thailand and Burma where the elephants live in a somewhat wild setting. Visitors feed the elephants and go down to the river to bathe them, but there are no elephants rides or tricks performed.
You can schedule a visit online before arriving. They do have a limited number of visitors each day, so plan ahead. Their van will pick you up at your hotel in the morning. I asked our hotel front desk to call and confirm the day before. The ride through the forests and mountains was quite pretty. The driver shows a short video on the way about their work and the need for elephant sanctuaries. After arriving, you help feed the elephants and see them walking around the grounds. You are allowed to get quite close to them, but there is also a platform viewing area for those who are not as comfortable being close. A guide accompanies you throughout the day. Bring a large bottle of water and clothes that you don't mind getting wet (and dirty!) A vegetarian lunch was provided mid-day. After lunch, they show a video showing the traditional training process many of these elephants go through. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and I was not able to stay through much of it. You are welcome to leave and go out to the viewing platform until it is over.