The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) was founded in memory of naturalist David Sheldrick after his death in 1977, and since then they have hand reared over 200 orphaned, infant elephants. It is one of the most respected Elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Over 100 of these are now living in wild and many return frequently, for instance to show off their wild born babies! These are the pleasures that nature bestows upon you for taking good care of its people….in this case Elephants! It is a remarkable work the entire team of this sanctuary has been rendering for decades now. And it is difficult to return from DSWT without being moved by their work, and the animals they rear tenderly here. We proudly present this interview with Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E, who founded the DSWT with an utmost dedication, passion and love for these animals.
1. Tell us how the idea of this sanctuary for elephants materialized?
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was founded in 1977 in honour of the memory of my late husband, famous naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park, David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE.
2. How big is it and how many elephants and other animals are currently present at the orphanage?
There are currently 24 orphaned infant elephants in the care of the orphanage, with a further 50 at our reintegration Units
3. How many animals have been rescued till date by this initiative?
More than 200 orphaned elephants have been successfully rescued and hand raised by us to date.
4. Can you touch upon the process of rescue and rehabilitation?
On call every day of the year, the DSWT travels throughout Kenya to rescue orphaned elephants and rhinos left alone with no hope of survival. Many of the orphans rescued are victims of poaching and human-wildlife conflict and are in a terrible state of emaciation and distress. Financial aid ensures that we are able to rescue these animals through the rapid deployment of a Rescue Team transported via air or ground and offer traumatised, orphaned infant elephants the very best chance of survival. After rescue, the complex process of rehabilitation begins within the precincts of Nairobi National park where human carers facilitate the physical as well as emotional healing of rescued animals. For milk fed calves, surrogate mothers feed milk every three hours and remain with them every hour of the day to create a close family bond.
Like humans, elephants hold strong family bonds and the loss of their mother can have a devastating effect on their mood, as they mourn, often refusing to eat and sometimes dying from the level of emotional pain caused. It is the close family bond, created with the keepers and the other rescued orphaned elephants that helps the newest orphans to overcome the traumatic starts they have endured in their short lives and the loss of their mothers.
5. Tell us some more about raising infants and younger orphans?
All infants the DSWT rescue are milk dependent, and acting as surrogate mothers, our Keepers feed the babies specialist formula milk every 3 hours, remaining with them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Milk is vital to ensure the infants grow strong and healthy and the youngest infants can drink upto 36 pints of milk each day whilst the older elephant orphans require milk up to the age of 4-5 years. Young elephants can be susceptible to pneumonia and nature’s elements without their mothers and herd (it can get cold in the Nairobi evenings and mornings), and therefore we cover the youngest infants with a blankets during the day and at night to protect them from the wind, cold and rain. The blankets can also be hung up at feeding time, mimicking their lost mother’s undercarriage, which provides assurance and comfort to infant while being fed.
7. What got you so passionate about saving elephants?
Growing up on a farm in Gigil, Kenya we had wild orphans everywhere as well as domestic pets, but I never thought I would be raising elephants. It was many years later when I married into the Kenya Wildlife Service that I started raising elephants, after they kept on coming in as victims of the poaching crisis.
8. How big is the problem of poaching? How can we fight it?
Today, there are less than 400,000 savannah elephants in Africa and tragically more than 50 elephants are being killed each day for their ivory. At this rate we could lose half the remaining population in the next ten years. 2012 was one of the deadliest years for elephants in regard to poaching and between 2003 – 2013, we saw a 500% increase in the number of orphans we rescued. The main cause of this is ivory poaching, which threatens the existence of the entire species.
In relation to helping stem the poaching menace, the Trust has always done its very best according to the resources at our disposal, and we are always extremely mindful that we owe our success to the incredible global support we have enjoyed. Our motto has always been that you ‘reap what you sow’ and if one does a good job, recognition and support follows. Money, corruption, greed and ignorance motivates the evil ivory and rhino horn trade, and throughout the decades we have seen the threat before, but a total ivory ban relieved things for fifteen years. An affluent China and Far East and their thirst for ivory is definitely putting Africa’s elephant populations into a very precarious position once again, but we do feel a more positive shift in recent months, and our field efforts have seen a 50% decline in Tsavo of poaching deaths. That is not to say the threat does not remain, but it does indicate how effective anti-poaching efforts, aerial surveillance and veterinary teams can be in thwarting poaching and saving individual lives. Our DSWT/KWS Vet Unit in Tsavo alone has saved over 80 elephants' lives who would have died due to poisoned arrow, spear and bullet wounds, but could be saved thanks to early treatment. These elephants are first sighted from the air in most cases as Tsavo is a vast place, bigger than some countries.
9. What have been your biggest learnings in the past 25 years
Eleanor [who came into our care in the 1960s] taught the many secrets of elephant nature and society over the years, including the all importance of family. Elephants have incredibly complex emotions and because they live in such close knit herds, baby elephants suffer sadness and grief when family members, especially their mothers, are killed. This grief is obvious for all to see as they remain apart from the rest grieving, and this can take weeks, and sometimes many months.
In elephant society, the whole herd take care of the youngest infants, and all comfort and care for those younger ones. Elephants are much more caring than us humans, even in infancy. But they have better powers of forgiveness than us humans, despite “never forgetting,” which in elephants happens to be true.
Having a family is crucial to an orphaned elephant but for all of the orphans I have cared for, and now the Trust cares for, each have lost their families but find the courage to turn the page, and focus on the living after grieving just as acutely as us humans, and perhaps even more so. They are much more welcoming of strangers, meaning all orphans find a new human-family at the orphanage. All the orphans instantly embrace and love any newcomer, showing caring and compassion by gently touching them with their trunks.
10. Your most memorable experience?
When one has a human child, whom you see every day and raise from the moment it is born, one knows the “inside story,” that is, the mind of that child. It is the same with orphaned animals and one orphan that captured my heart was Aisha.
She will always be the most special for me and live in my heart and memory forever. She came to us as one of the smallest elephants I had ever seen, with soft fuzz and ears as soft and pink as petals. When she arrived, my heart plummeted as we had never been able to save an elephant this young but amazingly, we discovered a milk formula that worked. She became my shadow, near my side every day and we often had to put my apron over her head so I could run away and steal a few minutes by myself.
11. Anything that you would like share with all the visitors and travelers?
Kenya and Africa stands at a crossroads for its wildlife. Everyone can do something by raising awareness of the poaching crisis, and by raising funds to help those who are able to make even a small difference at the field level to protect and preserve the elephants. Otherwise, elephants could be extinct in the wild within the next 15 years
Raising awareness of the poaching crisis is something that anyone can do – through signing our "iworry" petition and calling for a ban on all ivory at: www.iworry.org, or following us on Facebook or Instagram and sharing our posts.
Fostering an orphaned elephant in our care at www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org, receiving their monthly email updates and becoming a part of our foster family provides vital funds for the care of the elephants and our wider Anti-Poaching and Veterinary projects. It also makes a great gift for children!
Our message to the world would be that we humans are in fact, in terms of Nature also ‘animals’. The world is home to all animals and all contribute to the well being of the whole. We have just one home and mankind cannot exist in isolation with nature. Destroy the natural world and its wild denizens and we are in fact destroying ourselves. My late husband always maintained that in reality mankind is the most endangered species because we have done the most damage to the earth and will one day pay the price. I believe we are in fact beginning to see this with extreme weather conditions, earthquakes, floods and droughts.
This was one of the most touching interview we have ever done. The greed and hunger of human beings has indeed endangered many fellow species without any fault of theirs. Dr.Daphne’s reserve for orphaned elephants reflects the spirit of people who truly care and are passionate about making a difference with their efforts in saving the animals from the onslaught of human aggression. This world was bestowed upon us all and it is our duty to protect each other and all as one- not with a demarcation that cuts off humans from the others. This place is so unique and the work done by Dr Daphne and team is so inspiring that David Sheldrick Wildlife trust is a must visit place for all visitors in Kenya. At Bohotraveller, we have done our bit by adopting an orphan Elephant. We are proud foster parents of the cute elephant calf Barsilinga who is now a happy little elephant growing up in a loving environment. We urge you do to your bit too by taking part in the fostering program. Spending just USD 50 per annum is the least we as humans can do to save these gentle beasts.
To foster an elephant click on http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/fostering.asp. You may also donate in honour of a someone. Click on for donating in somebody's honour, click on http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/html/help.html