An Orphanage for Some Big Babies

Daphne Sheldrick has turned her Nairobi home into a nursery and rehabilitation center for infant elephants who have lost their families

infant elephants
Wikimedia Commons

Zoe, the robust elephant chugging down her infant formula, opposite, was just 2 weeks old when a game warden spotted her wandering in a village market near Kenya's Tsavo National Park in December 1995. The badly decomposed body of the infant's mother was found nearby. The baby elephant was driven by truck to a most unusual orphanage in Nairobi, run by a woman named Daphne Sheldrick.

The wife of the late David Sheldrick, founder and warden of Tsavo National Park, Sheldrick has been working with wild animals for some 60 years, and in 1977 she opened the elephant orphanage at her home in Nairobi. There her trained staff of eight virtually replaces the baby elephants' families. So far the orphanage, which survives on charitable donations, has saved 12 infants.

"Stressed baby elephants are very fragile," Sheldrick explains. "Often they have witnessed the death of their families at the hands of ivory poachers or irate farmers whose crops have been trampled. The baby elephants are so devastated with grief that some die of a broken heart."

As for Zoe, she was basically healthy, and once under Sheldrick's care she thrived, consuming six gallons of vitamin-laced formula a day and earning a reputation as a confident, naughty and mischievous youngster. Recently, after a year in the orphanage with the constant companionship of her human family, Zoe was weaned and taken to a refuge at Tsavo National Park.There her favorite keepers will gradually introduce her to the ways of the wild, helping her to find food and water. Nights are spent with other elephant youngsters in a protected stockade. It may take some years, but the ultimate aim — as with all the orphans — is to release her to a wild herd.

Sheldrick's dream for the future is to see "ivory remain banned, all stockpiles destroyed and no one to ever wear an ivory trinket." There will always be competition for land, Sheldrick explains, but we can "protect elephants in the parks and give the young a chance."

By Marlane Liddell

If you would like to make a donation, please make your check payable to David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and mail to: Daphne Sheldrick, c/o David Sheldick Wildlife Trust, P.O. Box 15555, Nairobi, Kenya.

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