Caring for Kenya’s elephants: Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE

World Wildlife Day: 3rd March 2016

In honour of World Wildlife Day, who better to consider than a woman who, in 2006, received a knighthood for her services to the conservation of wildlife. This was the first knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country’s independence in 1963. Daphne Sheldrick is now eighty-one years old and has spent an entire lifetime dedicated to the conservation and care of wildlife. From a childhood surrounded by a menagerie of animals with adorable nicknames (case-in-point: Bob the impala) to developing an expertise in animal husbandry and building an organisation dedicated to the conservation and the fostering of orphaned animals, Sheldrick has never strayed far from her passion, or from her native home of Kenya, where her great-grandparents settled in the early 1900s.

sheldrickThough her affinity for animals began long before, in 1977 Sheldrick founded the extremely successful David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, named in memory of her late husband, a successful naturalist and renowned warden of Tsavo East (Kenya’s largest national park). The trust, situated in Nairobi National Park, is a charitable organisation that is still running today, now headed by Angela Sheldrick, Daphne’s daughter. The DSWT is dedicated to the hand-raising of elephants who have been orphaned or abandoned through poaching or other human-related activity. To date, the trust has raised over 190 elephant calves and reintegrated them back into the wild herds of Tsavo. In addition to this well-known program, the DSWT’s schemes include a rhino orphan project, anti-poaching teams, veterinary services, forestry conservation and raising community awareness.

Sheldrick was born in June 1934, and in her autobiography ‘An African Lovestory’ she outlines her remarkable childhood surrounded by Kenya’s wildlife. From a young age she would care for vulnerable, orphaned or injured animals. It was through this practice that she realised that an animal should not be adopted unless there is the possibility in the future for the animal to reintegrate into the wild. Thus began her love affair with Africa and all its creatures. In the mid-1950s her first husband began to work with David Sheldrick in order to manage the development of the newly established Tsavo National Park. 5,000 square miles of deserted scrubland were transformed into a safe haven for Kenya’s increasingly threatened wildlife.

eliesOrphaned baby elephants play at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi (image: dumaafrikatreks.com)

Sheldrick’s particular fascination with elephants began when she found herself caring for Samson and Fatuma, two orphaned calves who were rescued by David Sheldrick. United by their passion for their work, Sheldrick and David were married in 1960 and continued to work together until his death in 1977. From there Sheldrick ensured that hers and David’s legacy would continue through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Although her lifework includes the protection and care of a variety of wild species, Sheldrick’s study of elephant and rhino behaviour has secured her reputation as a foremost wildlife expert with a particular expertise in animal husbandry. One of her most notable achievements is the development of a milk formula for baby elephants and rhinos that are still milk-dependent. In refining this formula, Sheldrick has almost singlehandedly ensured the salvation of these ill-fated orphans, who can now be brought up in a safe, healthy and loving environment until such a time as they are ready to be rereleased into the wild.

aishaSheldrick and baby elephant Aisha in Tsavo National Park , Kenya (image: The Daily Mail)

“Saving wildlife and wilderness is the responsibility of all thinking people. Greed and personal gain must not be permitted to decimate, despoil and destroy the earth’s irreplaceable treasure for its existence is essential to the human spirit and the wellbeing of the earth as a whole. All life has just one home – the earth – and we as the dominant species must take care of it.” – Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE

Daphne Sheldrick is a woman who has dedicated her life to protecting some of the world’s most threatened species and to safeguarding the world’s ecosystem. We hope that her work and the work of those around her will inspire others, eventually resulting in the reversal of the destructive actions of mankind.

elies3A herd of elephants in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya (image: un.org)

For more information about the work of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, to foster an elephant, or for more pictures of adorable baby elephants, visit their website.

By Francesca Kelsall

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