[Kenya] Protecting the giant conservation strides of ‘Mama Elephant’
Dame Daphne is celebrated world over for her pivotal role in creating the most successful rescue and rehabilitation programme in the world through her trailblazing work with orphaned elephants in Kenya.
Her daughter Angela Sheldrick is carrying on this legacy.
Throughout her years building the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, named after her late husband, Dame Daphne Sheldrick had rescued and rehabilitated over 230 baby elephants, who had been orphaned due to poaching, drought or human-wildlife conflict.
She became an international expert in animal husbandry and the first person in the world to successfully raise newborn elephant orphans. “I don’t think there’s a baby elephant raised anywhere in the world without some collaborative arrangement with Daphne’s early pioneering work,’ Angela told CNN’s Inside Africa programme.
Known affectionally as ‘Mama Elephant’ in Kenya and around the world, the late Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who passed away earlier this year, continues to inspire people to carry on her lifelong work.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust also works to reintegrate orphaned elephants back in to the wild; the return to the natural life cycle is central to the trust’s goal of rebuilding Kenya’s elephant population.
Angela explained: “Raising elephants is a small part of what we do because without taking care of the bigger picture, it would be futile. We need to know that when these baby elephants go back into the wild, we have the resources in place together in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service to make sure that they’re protected for the future. That’s why we have 11 anti-poaching teams and five veterinary units, an aerial wing that flies over Tsavo and other protected areas to ensure no illegal activities are taking place, and if they are, we are able to respond swiftly. It’s a big operation, a lot of amazing people doing extraordinary things.”
The programme followed Angela on one of the trust’s community projects in Nairobi aimed at educating the next generation about animal conservation.
Angela outlined the project’s aims: “We have up to 250 schoolchildren come here free of charge. That’s weekdays, five days a week. That’s been the case for 30 years, at least. So you cannot overemphasise the educational value of these orphaned elephants, because for many it’s the only elephants they’ll ever see.”
Elephant keeper Edwin Lusichi further explained the importance of such educational projects: “That’s why we go into schools to educate the children. They need to know why the animals are important, and it is why they do come here as well, the little ones, to see and learn more about conservation and wildlife. It’s these children that will actually make or break the future of the animals because the people taking care of them now will not be here forever.”
Angela believes now, more than ever before, more must be done for animal conservation:
“Daphne’s Kenya has changed dramatically over the years. She watched Kenya and the wild places shrink before her eyes, and in the old days you would look upon these plains, out here beyond Nairobi National Park, and the herds of wildlife seemed inexhaustible. You just couldn’t imagine a day would come where they would be little pockets only, and that day has come, and she recognised that. What we have left, it’s the eleventh hour now. We really have to ensure that what we have left is saved for future generations.”
Today, Sheldrick’s example motivates countless others to continue fighting for animal conservation.
The programme also met Robery Lemayian, co-founder of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, who described a positive outlook for Kenya’s wildlife: “The good thing about the generation in Kenya now, we are so excited. We know we have the power. We have the capacity. We have the potential. The generation now are so passionate and have got the energy. We want to take Sheldrick’s work to the next level, in conservation, in technology and in bringing more involvement into the communities.”
The Sheldricks’ latest endeavor is Unsung Heroes, a book highlighting the everyday people who selflessly continue Dame Daphne’s Sheldrick’s conservation work.
Angela described why is was necessary to tell these stories in her mother’s memory: “We’ve never told the stories of regular Kenyans out there who have gone, more often that not, with absolutely nothing, who have to extraordinary lengths of human courage and compassion, to save a little baby elephant, in some cases walking two days down the Ndoto Mountains to save a calf. So, to be able to tell those front-end stories, has been an absolute privilege. Their stories are positively inspirational, and it is the best of Kenya.”