Dame Daphne Sheldrick brings her love of elephants to America

Dame Daphne Sheldrick brings her love of elephants to America

Dame Daphne Sheldrick talks about her book at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Prince Harry may have charmed Washington, D.C., but on May 8, Dame Daphne Sheldrick graced the shores of America with her own British charm during a visit to New York’s American Museum of Natural History to mark the U.S. publication of her long-awaited memoir: Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story.


Dame Daphne Sheldrick brings her love of elephants to America
Kristin Davis introduces Dame SheldrickP Elizabeth Anderson

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Dame Daphne Sheldrick brings her love of elephants to America
My precious signed copy of Dame Sheldrick's book.PElizabeth Anderson



Dame Sheldrick is a renowned conservationist and expert in animal husbandry, famous for raising and reintegrating baby orphaned elephants back into the wild.

“She is the only person on the planet who knows how to nurse a baby elephant in a way it can live and thrive and be released into the wild,” explained Kristin Davis, of "Sex and the City" fame.

Davis, a patron of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Fund, joined Sheldrick at a private reception for stalwart contributors before the public talk. Familiar with Sheldrick’s work from a "60 Minutes" program, Davis contacted her after learning of an orphaned baby elephant while on a Kenyan safari.

Elephant tales enthrall

Sheldrick spoke to the grateful, enthusiastic audience for nearly an hour about her unique experiences with domestic and wild animals growing up in Kenya surrounded by a family with a rich history of helping animals. Her brother was the first warden of the first African national park, Nairobi National Park. Her husband, David, was a famous warden of Tsavo National Park, whose early death inspired her to found the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

They were partners in protecting Africa’s animals, co-wardens at Nairobi National Park until his death in 1977 from a heart attack. She was allowed to remain at the park and raised two daughters. Building on their knowledge base, she perfected the unique formula to keep baby elephants alive and developed the reintegration methods to successfully return them to a wild life.

Sheldrick mesmerized her audience with knowledge, insights, and magical stories. She talked about the amazing communication abilities between the orphans and the ex-orphans that mystify some. For example, the ex-orphans gather to greet the new orphans, even when an unscheduled truck arrives. She recounted that ex-orphans “detail young bulls to escort babies back to the orphanage, where they wait for the keeper to put the baby back in the junior lot,” because the baby became frightened on their ‘nights out.”’

During the Q&A, a man with a professorial air challenged Sheldrick’s theories of elephant communication. When Sheldrick replied in her gentle British accent with logic and examples, he tried to retort, but was booed by the audience, clearly supporting Sheldrick’s lifetime of knowledge and success over classroom suppositions.

Success breeds success

She has raised 140 orphaned elephants. Most stay with her for at least a decade. Understanding that “the most important thing for elephants is family,” Sheldrick amassed a team of keepers who rotate and stay with the elephants around the clock. They keep diaries that Sheldrick peruses for signs of problems and that contributors who foster receive to stay informed on what is happening in the orphanage.

Sheldrick has so successfully reintegrated the ex-orphans into the wild that they often visit the orphanage, especially to introduce their own babies to their human family that saved them.

She lost her first calf because she did not realize how emotionally dependent they become. The baby was thriving, but when Sheldrick left for her daughter’s wedding, the baby grieved and would not eat.

She believes that elephants are like “human animals” possessing many human traits of personality and intelligence. Elephants are also milk dependent as infants (elephants until the age of three), but cannot digest cow’s milk, which made finding a formula so crucial.

They are extremely fragile and emotionally sophisticated creatures at risk for death from psychological problems—another trait shared with humans.

A race against time

She ended the evening’s talk reminding the audience in response to a question that we are in a “race against time.” Since African states have been allowed to sell ivory, poaching has increased beyond the capacity of local governments to control it. “As long as there is trade in ivory, elephants will die,” she said.

She urged the audience to pressure their CITES (Convention on International Trade iin Endangered Species) delegates to ban ivory forever to stop the trade. She imparted that most of the CITES countries do not have elephants within their borders, but they all want to trade with China. “Everyone at CITES is thinking about trade, not so much about the elephants,” she said.

Everyone within the sound of her voice that night will be thinking about elephants for a long time and will never be the same after experiencing her powerful and warm presence. She is passing on her love in her “heartwarming and poignant memoir.”

She, like the elephants and other animals she saves, has faced lots of difficulties, but she is inspired by them to overcome.

“You grieve and mourn; that has to be," she said. "You bury one and then focus on the next one because there are going to be others that need your help.”

By example the elephants showed her how to “turn the page and focus on the living.”

The focus of Dame Daphne Sheldrick is a rich blessing, indeed.

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Stay tuned for a video of the public talk.

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