The international ivory trade has been banned since 1990. Despite this, poachers still kill roughly thirty thousand African elephants every year . 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
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 .
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 .
Read: Mother Elephant and Her Calf Attacked with Firebombs as Deforestation Drives Them Into the Paths of Humans
Dr. Sheldrick’s Legacy
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” .
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.