My Elephant Life or Extraordinary People Devoting Their Lives to Elephants

Remembering Elephant Conservationist Dame Daphne Sheldrick on 4 June, Her Birthday : Great Elephant People

If the term ‘elephant influencer’ (influence meaning “having the power or authority to affect change“) were to exist during her lifetime, or even now!, the late Dame Daphne Sheldrick, founder of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust,  would stand among the great elephant people in her own right.

Ironically she shared a birth month with two other elephant conservationists that come to mind, the late Pat Derby of PAWS  & the late Mark Shand of Elephant Family  . But it is today that we remember Daphne’s legacy, on her birthday (4 June 1934). The following was transcribed verbatim from “The Sheldrick Trust 40 years on”

(Instrumental music plays) The Sheldrick Trust 40 Years On

Dame Daphne Sheldrick: “I have always believed that with elephants you reap what you sow and if you treat them with the same tender loving care that they would have, uh, got from their own elephant family you will get their love and respect in return and that is the reward that will come to you. To actually be accepted by an elephant as a true and trusted friend is a very enormous privilege and our keepers know that. They have raised these elephants in the nursery, they sleep with them at night, feed them. They are with them until they go wild. They walk with them in the bush. The elephants will protect them. You know, they really are, sort of, part of the family.”

“Elephants have dominated, uh, the 40 years of the trust because they… it is such a long-term project. And just like your human children, even when they are grown and living wild, if they have a problem they come back. You know, my my parents always told us that, um, wild animals do not belong, they are only on loan for for as long as they need help. And that you must always be unselfish enough to to give them freedom and, uh,  so they can lead a wild life which is their their birthright. Of course when you raise a… an orphaned animal you start understanding that the body language… how it feels and thinks, you know. Uh, you know it much more intimately than you would if you were just observing the wild herds.” (elephants rumbling)

My passion for elephants came when we went to Tsavo. David was given Tsavo east because they…the Trustees in those days recognized that there was someone that would be capable of taming that wilderness. Before that he had just finished the war where he was, uh, as I say, the youngest Major in the Kings African Rifles, commanded that battalion in in… both in Ethiopia and Burma. He had uh, a very commanding presence around him all the time. I worked alongside him in every way. We had orphaned elephants in those days. That is where I really began to understand the nature of elephants.”

I fell in love with David and he fell in love with me and, uh, he was my soulmate. David and I had an absolutely blissfully happily married 17 years. After David’s death in 1977, I wanted to, and so did David’s friends, want to continue his legacy to to look after as much as we could of wild places and the wild inhabitants and, uh, that is what motivated the establishment of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in memory of him.”


The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was established in 1977. Over the next decade, Kenya experienced an unprecedented crisis.”


DDS: “By that time the poaching became very, very serious, uh, both in Tsavo and countrywide, in fact. And the population of elephants which was estimated to be 45,000 in the ecosystem, which is twice the size of the park itself, 16,000 square miles, uh, dropped from an estimated 45,000 to just 6000. Uh, there was a real massacre of elephants going on at that time. Quite honestly the the situation looked pretty hopeless. But uh, you know one cannot give up as long as there are some elephants alive and we had, of course, the orphans to think about and um, you know, one has to do one’s best. That is all one can do.”

“We started off with just me and my daughter, you know, trying to raise the first few elephants. And in fact, the first elephant slept in our bedroom. And then some kind soul came along and offered to build a stable for us so, you know, that is how it all started.”


Journalist: “This has to be done how often?”

DDS: (carefully measuring elephant formula) “Every three hours, day and night.”


Image: CC Flickr: sugar pond, close up of baby elephant accepting a bottle from Keeper at DSWT


Since the arrival of the first orphan, the Trust has rescued, rehabilitated and re-introduced 200 elephants into the wilderness of the Tsavo National Park.”


DDS: “When you raise an elephant and you know that elephant is going to be living wild probably 50, 60, 70 years, uh, you have to see the big picture. It is no good just raising the elephants and tipping it back into the wild without doing your best to keep it and its wild friends safe in in the natural habitat that it is going to be living in.”

“Raising the orphans is just one aspect of the Trust. We do a lot more besides that. For instance in Tsavo we have four aircraft and soon going to be two helicopters that patrol the skies every single day. They report any illegal activities that are going on and just try and keep Tsavo as safe as possible. You work very very closely with Kenya Wildlife Service which is the authority in charge of all wildlife in the country. We have ten field ground teams that work with KWS picking up snares and arresting poachers that they come across during the course of their patrols.”

“And another aspect of the Trust is protecting wild habitats. We will pay a local community to actually look after that wild habitat, not poach the elephants so that they can become stewards of their own environment. We are creating new conservation areas. We are building eco-lodges to drive the tourist industry upon which the national parks depend. We have laid hundreds of kilometers of fences to reduce human wildlife conflict and we are placing bore holes to bring water back to stressed eco-systems within the national parks.”

“We have four mobile veterinary units based in strategic elephant habitats, one of which is in Tsavo. And that these, uh… between them all since they have been operational, which is now about 10 years, have saved the lives of over 2000 wild elephants. And these elephants with poisoned arrow wounds, spear wounds, bullet wounds… and none of them would have lived without intervention.”


Ithumba Reintegration Facility Tsavo East National Park


DSWT Keeper: (calling out to the elephants) “Shukuru (elephant name) Good morning, Shukuru. Shukuru, Shukuru, Shukuru. Sokotei… (elephant names) It takes a long time to… have a good relationship with uh, these elephants… to make sure that you are accepted… to be part of their family.”

“There is one wild elephant here. The wild elephant is a bit shy, you can tell by the way she is behaving, She is not sure what is happening here. You know for her it is unbelievable, for seeing her colleagues actually interacting with the humans. Because the wild elephants understand that humans are the greatest enemies of elephants. So she cannot understand how actually these orphans could be interacting there with these humans. (Start approx 12:39) I have been working at Ithumba for the last 13 years now. During that time I have seen many orphans join the wild. (elephants rumbling & trumpeting) Some of these former orphans have been coming with their their own young little babies.”

2nd DSWT Keeper: (November 2011) It was yesterday at around 11, a time for mudbath when, uh, all of a sudden when we were waiting for the orphans Mulika emerged with a tiny baby, uh, bringing the baby for the Keepers to see. It was so fantastic. Everyone was excited and uh, we were happy because it shows that we are growing.


Over the past 40 years, the former orphans of the Trust’s rehabilitation program have given birth to more than 25 wild born babies.”


DDS: “I feel…I think humans have to understand that the world was not created just for humans and understand that everything that is indigenous on this planet is meant to be here for the well-being of the earth as a whole. (elephants rumbling, birds singing, beautiful sounds of nature, rivers raging) “With all of the threats facing elephants today it would be easy perhaps to lose hope in these difficult times. But we have seen difficult times before in the early days and come through it. We, in the conservation world, have campaigned very hard for the protection of elephants for many many years and we are beginning to see results at last.

For centuries ivory has been considered something of huge value and prestige. But things are changing now and it is shameful to possess ivory nowadays. Ivory is being burnt in their huge piles all around Africa. Many markets are closing down including the biggest ones in China and also the United States.”

(Woman activist: “We are not only crushing ivory, we are crushing the bloody ivory market.”)

DDS: “The message is being received and it seems that people have had enough of the senseless killing. I see a lot of hope in the next generation. For instance, Angela, my daughter and son-in-law, Robert, her husband, who will carry on the legacy, my two grandsons as well; Taru is already a pilot on patrol and Roan is equally as passionate, too.

This work is what drives us. Our mission is to fight for the elephants and it is something that we always will do.


Image: CC Flickr: by Kim Bartlett Animal People Inc : Dame Daphne Sheldrick with baby African elephant



A film by Austin Peck. Featuring Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick


Watch YouTube video  “The Sheldrick Trust 40 years on

Images: both CC Flickr: by Kim Bartlett Animal People Inc : Dame Daphne Sheldrick with baby African elephant; by sugar pond, close up of baby elephant accepting a bottle from Keeper at DSWT

Definition at Word Hippo: To influence is “having the power or authority to affect change


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