Orphans in Blankets

The colourful array of blankets hanging on the trees, fences and stockades of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Nairobi Nursery are now a familiar symbol of the elephant orphanage. When washed and dried these comforting blankets are an elephant’s best friend.

In the wild, baby elephants are sheltered from the the wind, rain and sun by their loving and attentive elephant herd, from the cold of the night and cooled in the shadow of their mother from the harsh rays of the sun during the heat of the day.

At a delicate age all infant elephants are extremely vulnerable to changing weather and temperature conditions and are highly susceptible to pneumonia, which claims many young elephant orphan’s lives.

Without their mother and their herd to protect them from nature’s unforgiving elements young orphaned elephants need extra special care from their human keepers at the Nairobi Nursery.

To ensure each orphan’s health, comfort and well-being, the keepers are armed with a secret weapon; a soft and fluffy blanket. These multi-coloured swathes of fabric are not only used to keep the infant elephants warm on a cold night, but have many cunning uses.

Sities with blankets and Mischak. Photograph by Nick Nichols

When heavy rain clouds loom in the sky, the keepers have a bundle of raincoat-blankets at hand. Waterproof on the outside and fluffy on the inside, the keepers wrap the tailor-made coats snuggly around the younger orphan’s waists whilst carrying a big umbrella overhead when the rain becomes torrential.

Rainy day at the Nairoby Nursery. Photograph by DSWT

The physical act of bottle feeding a new orphaned elephant is a tricky process and after years of trial and error it was Angela’s tent, which she and her friends would play in when she was young, that provided a solution. Olmeg at the time would simply not feed unless under the tent with his truck resting against the canvas. When infant elephants feed in the wild they caress their mother’s warm body with their trunk as they suckle. It provides a place for the trunk to rest too when raised to feed and this feels natural rather than suspended in thin air. This comforting and loving habit has now been reconstructed at the nursery by hanging one of the blankets in the very young orphan’s stockade, or between trees when out in the forest and this acts as the mother’s warm body, whilst a keeper stands behind the blanket offering a tempting bottle of milk secretly from underneath. This cunning manoeuver works a charm on the younger orphans who are hesitant to accept a bottle of milk.

Daphne feeds Olmeg under the tent - when the secret of the blanket was first discovered. Photograph by DSWT

Kithaka feeding. Photograph by Robert Carr-Hartley

Although a wonderful tool for raising infant elephants, some orphans become overly attached to their ‘blanky’. Just like a human child, the orphans fiddle, suck and play with their blankets, comforted by what it represents. Yet there must come a time when each orphan must understand they no longer need the comfort of a blanket, and are slowly and lovingly weaned off their attachment on the journey to become a mature elephant and part of a wild herd in Tsavo. With some this is a simple task, while others take months and it is a slow and painful process!

Sities and Kevin. Photograph by DSWT

Barsilinga - a little charmer. Photograph by DSWT

There is a wealth of information about the DSWT’s Elephant Orphans’ Project and the hand-rearing of milk dependent infant elephants on the charity’s website where you can also become a part of of an orphan elephants extended family through the fostering programme and help give these fragile babies a second chance at life.


  1. Love this

  2. Thank you DSWT for all you do.

  3. A very interesting article …learnt so much more !!!
    Blankets are so important in all our lives ..still miss mine and I am 50!

  4. Love this journal.. shows exactly how you all care for these little babies

    would love to purchase journal if available
    Thank You

  5. William and I have truly enjoyed our elephant study. He is always very excityed because he has a blanky also. Thank you.

  6. I love what DSWT does for these wonderful ellie babies. Thank you for providing blankets for the little one’s.

  7. To die for #Beautiful Babies

  8. Wonderful how well you care for them, Thank You!! ♡

  9. The baby ellies are so cute! The information about the fluffy blankets and the special bottle-feeding tent was a pleasure to read!

  10. Thank you!!

  11. Thank so much for what you are all doing!

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Mrs. Gray

    Ps: My middle name is Daphne, and I named my Daughter Daphne!
    My father honored me with that Name!

  12. Thanks for all that you do for these magnificent animals. It must be so hard for them after the trauma of losing their Mothers so cruelly, without people like yourselves these poor babies would have no chance of surviving, so a big thank you to all involved.

  13. There is so much I learn and you do everything with so much love, thank you

  14. Love Elephants

  15. So wonderful! I just love seeing this again. I watched the documentary about the baby Elephant nursery on Nat Geo. In fact I watched it more tha once. It’s one of my favorite things to watch.. God bless all of you who work so hard to save these orphans.. You are amazing human beings…..angels on earth. Thank you so very much. I keep you in my prayers.

  16. Please share more stories about them, I love every piece of your writing. Love to know how you wean them from the blankets. I heard some of them hate the blanket and have nothing to do with it.

  17. Thank you for taking the time to publish. So adorable

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