By Britta Foulis
Dame Daphne – An African Icon
April the 12th 2018 was a sad day in the world of conservation. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, a national treasure and conservation icon, passed away at the age of 83 after a long battle with breast cancer. A remarkable woman who had dedicated her life to saving young elephants and rhinos, and pioneered ways to rear newborn animals by hand.
Kenyan born Daphne spent over 25 years of her life raising and successfully rehabilitating hundreds of wild species including elephants, black rhinos, buffalo, zebras, elands, kudus, impalas, duikers, reedbuck, dik-diks, warthogs, civets, mongoose, and various birds.
Daphne lived and worked in Nairobi, and since her husband, David’s, passing in 1977, Daphne founded the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its pioneering Orphans Project, moulding it into the global force for wildlife conservation that is it known as today.
David’s passion for conservation led him to organize one of Kenya’s first anti-poaching units. He also focused on studies surrounding elephant diets, migration patterns, and the like. Daphne’s passion for orphaned wildlife led her to focus on rescuing young elephants whose mothers had fallen victim to the ruthless and devastating ivory trade and poachers.
‘In her final weeks, she drew comfort from knowing her work would continue with the tiny steps of baby elephants, and died knowing she will continue to make a difference every day.’
Conservation concerns have been highlighted on a global platform, and a huge part of this is thanks to Dame Daphne herself and the work she stood for.
Not only did she lead the way in terms of conservation, her work was pioneering too. Dame Daphne was the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent elephants and rhinos. Her special bottled milk formula led to more than 230 baby pachyderms being saved in Kenya as well as countless others in Africa and India.
“Daphne lived alongside elephants and learned to read their hearts…she understood their fragility, their intelligence, their capacity to love.”
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Born from one family’s passion for Kenya and its wilderness, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is today the most successful orphaned elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world and one of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.
If you are visiting us in Kenya, we wholeheartedly urge you to make a stop at the DSWT before heading out into the bush. You’ll get to meet the orphaned elephants that call the Trust home and learn their stories. The wonderful keepers, who become family to the elephants, will show you how they care for these special creatures and teach you about conservation in general and what the Trust is doing to help their current orphans, as well as how they aim to end the scourge of poaching.
If you would like to play a part in continuing the legacy Dame Daphne began, you may be interested in fostering one of the orphaned elephants and helping to make their time at the Trust that much easier and hopefully allow them to be reintroduced into the wild as early as possible to live the life of a wild, happy, and free elephant. You can read more about this heart-warming and fulfilling experience here.
Dame Daphne Sheldrick was a remarkable women and we know that her legacy will live on. An exceptionally optimistic person, Daphne’s admiration and respect for elephants grew and grew, even as their numbers continued to decline. Daphne had once thanked the elephants, “those who by example have demonstrated how to cope with adversity. They, who have suffered so much at the hands of humans, never lose the ability to forgive, even though, being elephants, they will never be able to forget.”