Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
March 16, 2022 ·  3 min read

Excited Orphaned elephants always lined up to hug woman who saved their lives

The international ivory trade has been banned since 1990. Despite this, poachers still kill roughly thirty thousand African elephants every year [1]. What makes things worse, is that the killing of mother elephants leaves hundreds of orphaned baby elephants to fend for themselves. 

Baby elephants need a lot of care from their mothers during the first few years of their lives, and so sadly, orphaned elephants do not have a great chance at survival.

There have been a few incredible people who have worked to save elephants from poachers. One woman dedicated her entire life to saving these young animals, and they never forgot it.

Dr. Daphne Sheldrick: The Orphaned Elephant Mom

Daphne Sheldrick with orphaned elephants

Dr. Daphne Sheldrick was a British citizen who was born in Kenya in 1934. At the time, Kenya was still a British colony, and she spent her entire life there. Sheldrick described her father as a “sensitive naturalist” who cared deeply about wildlife.

At the outbreak of World War II, he was sent to a game reserve, where his job was to kill wildebeest and zebras in order to feed British and Kenyan troops. The task was devastating for a man like Sheldrick’s father.

In 1940, Sheldrick’s mother took her to visit the camp. It was there that she decided she wanted to live her life among the animals and under the sky. 

More than twenty years later, Sheldrick’s husband became the warden of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. The pair began taking in orphaned animals with the goal of rehabilitating them and returning them to the wild.

Due to poaching and prolonged drought, they took in a large number of orphaned elephants. It was then that Sheldrick began to become like a mother to these young animals [2]. 

One of the biggest problems orphaned elephants face is the need for milk. They are dependent on their mother’s milk for the first two years of their lives, and then it takes another two years before they are fully weaned. Sheldrick developed a formula for these elephants by infusing vegetable fat and coconut oil into human infant formula. She became the first person to successfully raise an orphaned infant elephant [3].

Read: Mother Elephant and Her Calf Attacked with Firebombs as Deforestation Drives Them Into the Paths of Humans

Dr. Sheldrick’s Legacy

Daphne Sheldrick with orphaned elephants

For many years, Sheldrick and her husband worked together to raise awareness about illegal elephant poaching. In 1976, the couple moved to Nairobi National Park. One year later, her husband died of a heart attack. 

Following her husband’s death, Sheldrick established the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in her husband’s honor. It is one of only three organizations on the planet that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases orphaned elephants. 

In 2006, Dr. Sheldrick was honored by the Queen for her work and was given the title Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick. In 2018, she passed away of breast cancer but has left an incredible legacy behind her.

Aside from her own biography, she wrote several books including “The Orphans of Tsavo” (1966) and “An Elephant Called Eleanor” (1981). The trust was also heavily featured in the British TV show, “Born to be Wild”, in the episode “Elephant Diaries” [2].

Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya, the woman who saves orphan African Elephants
Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya. January 2005

Elephants: Caring Creatures

In 2009, a reporter asked Dr. Sheldrick in an interview what she admired most about elephants. She said that their tremendous capacity for caring is perhaps their most amazing trait.

“They have all of the best attributes of us humans and not very many of the bad,” she said [2].

“They’re not corrupted. Their sense of family is as strong as ours. Their memories are amazing and their convoluted thinking and reasoning is equal to that of a human … The caring and nurturing is far greater in elephants than it is in humans, and loyalty and friendship endures.” [3]

Dr. Sheldrick has saved hundreds of orphaned elephants throughout her lifetime, and with her organization still in place, hundreds more will have a second opportunity at life.

Keep Reading: Justice: When The Poacher Who Killed 500 Elephants Was Sentenced to 30 Years in Jail


  1. Is elephant poaching really declining?National Geographic. Rachael Bale. June 25,2020.
  2. Daphne Sheldrick, 83, Who Saved Orphaned Elephants, Is Dead.” NY Times
  3. Woman “Mothers” Elephants For 40 Yrs— Now They Line Up For Hugs Whenever They See Her.Inspire More. Kimberly White. October 23, 2017.

This article originally appeared on The Hearty Soul in October 2020 and has been published here with permission.