The first young elephant orphans of Tsavo were “
two year old baby bull orphaned during drought conditions in 1952 and
“Fatuma”, a two year old baby female orphaned by poachers soon
afterwards during the same year. There followed many others over the
subsequent early years of David Sheldrick’s 30 years as Warden of Tsavo
East National Park, but always *only* those orphaned either, just below,
or at two years old and over, survived. The hand-rearing of a fully
milk dependent *infant* elephant (i.e. under two years of age) was
something that eluded the Sheldrick’s for 28 years for an infant
elephant is milk dependent for at least the first two years of life, and
those that survive in a wild situation without access to milk between
the age of 2 and 3, are few. This has been established by the
scientific monitoring of the Amboseli population for the past 30
years. The composition of the *fat* content of elephants’ milk is very
different from that of cows’ milk, added to which evidence suggests the
actual protein and fat composition of elephants’ milk varies during
different stages of lactation to cater for the growing needs of a
baby. This means that two years is a very long time to be reliant on
an artificial substance that is not identical to /mother’s milk,/
especially in view of the fact that Nature has made infant African
elephants *exceedingly* *fragile;* they can be fine one day and dead the
next and one can never be sure that a calf will survive until it is past
its second birthday. The hand-rearing of orphaned elephants is an
emotional roller-coaster for those involved, for tragedy stalks success
and can strike unexpectedly at any moment.
It was not until 1974, and after years of trial and error, that Dr. Dame
Daphne Sheldrick managed to keep a newborn infant alive for the first 6
months of life, but grief and stress related diarrhoea took her life
when Daphne had to be absent from her for a week in order to attend to
the arrangements for the wedding of her daughter, Jill, even though a
competent substitute was in place. However, little “Aisha”
(whose story is on the website)
mourned the loss of yet another mother figure so deeply that she died in
Daphne’s arms the day she returned.
It was not until 1987, and after the death of her beloved husband,
David, that Dame Daphne finally achieved success in rearing the infant
elephants, the first being a 2 week old victim of poaching named “Olmeg”,
who today is amongst the wild herds of Tsavo. Poaching and other human
related disasters followed and other orphans were rescued. By
September 2008, over eighty infant African elephants had been
successfully hand-reared by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
established in memory of David, all under the supervision of Dame Daphne
Sheldrick together with her daughters Angela and Jill. Since the death
of “Aisha” the orphaned elephants are discouraged from becoming too
attached to just one person, but rather handled by a team of dedicated
“Keepers” who can represent a “family” and who replace an orphan’s lost
elephant one. The “family”, along with the milk formula, is an
essential component to success in rearing the elephants who mirror
humans in terms of emotion. This lesson, learnt by Dame Daphne
Sheldrick the hard way in 1974, combined with techniques involving a
combination of homeopathy and conventional medicine to treat the sick
and wounded, plus 50 years of experience involving a good dose of
emotion are responsible for the Trust’s success in this field.
However, even though over 80 young orphaned elephants have been saved,
reared and offered a second chance of life and freedom, having
successfully moved beyond the two year fragile infant stage, many have
not made it, too damaged to be able to retrieve or having died, some
mysteriously, before the age of two.
All the elephant orphans raised by the Trust are gradually rehabilitated
back into the wild elephant community of Tsavo National Park when grown,
a transition that is made at their own pace and in their own time, but
usually taking approximately eight to ten years. A number of our ex
Nursery orphans have now had wild born young which they have brought
back to show their erstwhile human family, and others are now pregnant
and living free, yet keeping in touch with those who are still Keeper
dependent. Amongst these are many orphaned too young to have any
recollection of their elephant mother or family.
To read many remarkable stories please view the updates section of our website.
The success of our Orphans’ Projects is due to the assistance of many organizations and individuals but particularly to the support of the Trust’s Fostering Programme. We thank all who have fostered one or more of the elephant orphans and particularly those who have donated more than the mandatory $50 a year to do so at a time when extra funding is needed most.
We thank Care for the Wild International for their substantial support over the years, along with Rettet die Elefanten Afrikas Ev., Vrienden van de Olifant, Terre et Faune, Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) , The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Eden Wildlife Trust and the Swedish Foreningen Forsvar Elefanterna for their grants in support of our Orphans’ Project.
The DSWT is proud to be supported by commercial partners, including: British Airways, Pfizer, Nat Geo Wild, Animal Friends Pet Insurance, Chantecaille, Kathy Kamei Designs, Solgar UK and Metage Capital.