Daphne Sheldrick, (June 4, 1934) is a spokesperson for wildlife conservation. She was born in Kenya and through her life's learning and example has protected, especially baby elephants, and Africa's other wonderful beasts. Her husband was a game warden and she has memorialized their life, since his death with a foundation.
We excerpt from a recent magazine article, which appeared in Eluxe Magazine:
You can’t help but be in awe of the extraordinary Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Compassionate, courageous and a devoted caregiver, her kindness towards the wild animals of Africa has led to some unbelievable milestones. It all began in 1955, when she married the Head Warden of Kenya’s largest national park, Tsavo, at 21. She started opening her doors to Tsavo’s orphaned and injured animals, from antelopes to wart hogs. By the 1960s, following years of trial and error, she created the first milk formula for rhino infants. Not many years after, she also perfected a baby formula for orphaned elephants.
Together with her husband David, she spent over two decades raising and rehabilitating many wild species. After her husband’s death in 1977, Daphne established the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, in memory of the man who’d taught her so much about the wonders of wild animals and in a bid to raise funds to help more species in Kenya. In 1989, she was decorated by the Queen with an MBE for her remarkable work in this field. Today, at 82 years of age, Sheldrick is no less passionate about her cause than she was at 21. In this interview, she talks to me about the upcoming 40th year anniversary of the DSWT, staying positive, ivory poaching and the new luxury camp that’s open to everybody.
What was the best lesson your husband David Sheldrick taught you about animals?
The best lesson taught to me by David as well as by my parents has been that orphaned wild animals never ‘belong.’ They are only on loan for the dependent years and that the greatest gift you can give them is freedom to lead a natural wild life as dictated by nature, motivated by their genetic memory.
How do you feel we’ve progressed in terms of combating ivory poaching?
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 Veterinary team in Tsavo alone saved over 80 elephant’s lives who would have died due to poisoned arrow, spear and bullet wounds, that 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.
You’ve just hired some dogs! Tell us about the Canine Unit you’ll be launching this year to help in the fight against ivory poaching.
Our Canine Unit follows in the footsteps our aim to undertake whatever is necessary to protect wildlife employing pioneering and effective solutions. The three carefully selected and fully trained dogs will work alongside six trained handlers, accommodated in our specially built kennels that also have an onsite laboratory.
The Unit will work alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service, our Aerial Unit and our Anti-Poaching Teams, and will track poison arrow poachers and wildlife offenders; coordinating with our aircraft, so we can provide a more rapid response in any area.
Could you tell our readers about the luxury camp the DSWT opened last year and why people should go?
Our luxury camp is the latest addition to our eco-lodges and is the second camp to be built by our Ithumba Reintegration Centre. Here, the focus for the orphans is learning how to live a wild life and the two camps afford a glimpse into the world of these elephants and the stunning surrounds.
Opened in 2015, the luxury self-catering retreat, Ithumba Hill, has been created to offer increased luxury for guests exploring Tsavo East’s remote northern area whilst enjoying visits to the Trust’s Ithumba elephant Orphans. From its elevated position halfway up Ithumba Hill, this private luxury tented camp enjoys breath-taking views across Tsavo’s vast landscape, and like our two other properties, has been designed for the more intrepid traveller who relishes being off the beaten track......
If you could send a message to the world, what would it be?
The 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 in fact contribute to the wellbeing of the whole. We have just one home and mankind cannot exist in isolation of 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.
Books also served to share her message. She wrote Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story (2012), which is autobiographical and details her idyllic childhood on an African farm. There she says:
My life-long involvement with animals began with a mother cat and her kittens. [As a toddler she]...was an inquisitive child, always on the move...To stop me disturbing my brother and sister during their lessons, my mother would wedge me into the cat-box, the only place apparently where I was guaranteed to be good as gold. She told me later: "You would stay there for hours, sucking your thumb, with a kitten or two snuggled in your lap."