Daphne Sheldrick: A Force for Elephants

Daphne Sheldrick feeds one of her early elephant rescues.
Daphne Sheldrick feeds one of her early elephant rescues. Photo courtesy of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Who doesn’t love baby elephants? Daphne Sheldrick certainly does, and she’s taken her love further than most, becoming the first person to successfully rescue baby African elephants of nursing age who have lost their mothers and raise them to adulthood. One Green Planet recently wrote an illuminating profile of this fascinating 81-year-old woman.

Although most baby elephants can survive for a short time in the wild without their mothers, receiving basic protection from the herd, they do not get enough nutrition because other mothers are unwilling to nurse them, wanting to keep the milk for their own babies. This eventually leaves t0 death by starvation.

Daphne Sheldrick began working with orphaned elephants when her husband David Sheldrick was the warden of Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. She developed the first appropriate formula for baby African elephants. Though she first did much of the work on her own, she soon learned that baby elephants should have multiple human caretakers to avoid them becoming psychologically dependent on a single person, which can send the elephant into a deep depression if the human gets sick, goes on vacation or moves away.

In 1977, she founded the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 1977 in honor of her husband. Since then, the center has raised numerous orphaned elephants. Elephants are very intelligent and herds have a complex structure, so the center pays close attention to the social and psychological development of the elephants in addition to caring for their physical needs.

A baby elephant works on stripping a branch at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya
A baby elephant works on stripping a branch at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Karen, Kenya

When they are old enough to feed and care for themselves, the elephants are taught survival skills in neighboring Nairobi National Park and reintegrated into wild herds. Some adult elephants occasionally come to the orphanage to visit their former caretakers and introduce their babies to them.

The trust also rehabilitates orphaned rhinos.

The trust’s elephant orphanage outside Nairobi is a favorite stop for Ujuzi travelers when they first arrive in Kenya. There, you can visit with the young elephants, learn more about elephant behavior and biology, and observe some of the amazing work the center does to help them thrive.

Contact Ujuzi to learn more!

 

 

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