Joachim Schmeisser documents his encounters with gentle giants, the orphan elephants of a wildlife trust in Nairobi.
This article was originally published in October 2011.
Nairobi, Kenya, is home to ‘The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’, a unique sanctuary and orphanage. Started by legendary conservationist David Sheldrick, it is dedicated to the preservation of Africa’s wilderness, specifically elephants. Elephants are fascinating animals. Their existence on our planet is millions of years old. Unfortunately, their habitat and survival are endangered today.
Most of the elephants who live in this sanctuary have become orphans due to the effects of poaching. Over here, they are reared by individual keepers, till they are confident and old enough to be let out in the wild.
The sanctuary also hosts an Orphan’s Project, where one can ‘adopt’ one of these elephants. This basically means that a person is responsible for the well being of an assigned elephant through the means of donations. A friend of mine gifted my son the guardianship for one of these orphan elephants. This is how I came across these gentle giants and started making photographs of these wonderful creatures.
When I decided to undertake this project, I chose to frame these elephants in their natural element. As sensitive and stoic they are in their demeanour, they can be extremely playful too. They would often enjoy themselves during their mud baths, and would roll around in the ground and cover themselves liberally with dust.
Orphans of all ages are found in this sanctuary. In fact, the youngest elephant I have photographed was only three weeks old. A lot of my photographs were made when the elephants would play with each other. However, I would also try to portray them during their quiet moments— when they would isolate themselves from the herd and stand in sombre silence.
This project has been an unforgettable experience, and has left me as a huge fan of these animals. Not just that, I have gained profound respect for ‘The David Sherdrick Wildlife Trust’, who do an amazing job at caring for these marvels of nature.
Photographing Animals in Their Element
- While approaching the animal, make sure you do not threaten it in any form whatsoever. If you feel the animal is nervous, step back and make the pictures at another point of time.
- Choose to frame the intricacies of the animal’s body. For instance, frame the wrinkles on the hide of an elephant, or capture a zebra’s stripes.
About Joachim Schmeisser
Joachim Schmeisser is from Germany and has been practising photography since the age of 12. He has worked for several campaigns for beauty and fashion magazines, and is currently involved in making portraits and reportage photography from various travels in Asia, Africa and the United States of America.