Interview with Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – a global force for wildlife conservation, by Annabel Ruffell.

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My name is Annabel Ruffell and I am the founder of Journey for Earth, a global awareness company committed to inspiring change for humanity, the environment and animals, one choice at a time.

I love and admire the wonderful work that Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has done over the years. Her commitment to and unwavering passion for elephants – for all wildlife – is absolutely inspiring and encourages each of us to see these animals as the gift that they are and to do what we can to protect them now and for future generations.

Bio:

aboutdamesheldrick5Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime. Born in Kenya on the 4th June 1934, she grew up amongst animals, both wild and domestic.

The key to Daphne’s success has been her life-long experience with wild creatures, an in-depth knowledge of animal psychology, the behavioural characteristics of different species, and of course, that most essential component, a sincere and deep empathy.

Through an autobiography, four books, numerous articles, lectures and television appearances, Daphne has promoted wildlife conservation worldwide.

Daphne received a prestigious accolade in 2002 from the B.B.C. – their Lifetime Achievement Award. In the November 2005 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, Daphne was then named as one of 35 people worldwide who have made a difference in terms of animal husbandry and wildlife conservation.

In the 2006 New Year’s Honours List, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Dr Daphne Sheldrick to Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the first Knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country received Independence in 1963.

https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

1. Share with us your journey of when your love of animals began…

My love of animals dawned alongside awareness. I was born on a farm in the Rift Valley of Kenya and my earliest recollection is sitting for hours with a mother cat and her kittens in the cat box.  I grew up with animals, both domestic and wild for we had many wild orphans even in those days. Not elephants and rhinos of course, but many different antelope species and I loved them all unconditionally.

2. Many parents I know take their children to the zoo…They say they want their child/ren to see a “real” elephant up close and to experience that and they cannot afford to go to eg. Africa to see them in the wild. What are your thoughts on zoos and how can parents best educate their children about elephants and other wild animals?

112120041357-pic2Everyone must be made aware of the fact that no animal enjoys imprisonment and least of all, an elephant that needs space, and importantly much more space than can possibly be afforded them in captivity. It has been proven that elephants are emotionally similar to us humans.  An elephant can walk over 100 miles in a day – Our 10 year old orphan “Imenti” did just that searching for his keeper after having been relocated following an incident when he put his tusk through the windscreen of a car that ran into the herd he was with in Tsavo. Imenti was protecting his friends rather than an act of aggression because he had no reason to dislike humans having been reared with sensitivity and kindness.  Elephants are inherently peaceful beings and none of our hand reared orphans are aggressive even when grown.  With elephants you reap what you sow.

3. There is a very strong bond between the elephants and their human family at DSWT and you talk of how many have chosen to remain in touch by bringing their wild-born babies to share them and their joy with their human family, and returned to seek the help of their human family when wounded or sick. Is it hard to see them leave DSWT in the sense that they will possibly be open to attack by poachers? Do you know how many – if any – that left DSWT died at the hands of poachers?

12312014427-pic4Currently our heart aches for all elephants who are being ruthlessly persecuted by humans for their ivory tusks. Our orphans are of course, very special to us – part of our elephant family, who have been with us since early infancy. It must be remembered that elephants duplicate us humans in terms of age progression and are essentially human emotionally – in fact just like us but better than us humans in many ways such as caring and forgiveness.

We know of 3 of our erstwhile orphans who died due to poaching, but like the elephants themselves we simply have to turn the page and focus on the living – something that the elephants have to do almost every day these days. 

4. Tsavo National Park today holds the potential for the best long-term hope for the survival of a greater number of species than any other Park in the world. How is the elephant and rhino poaching situation in Tsavo today?

Poaching takes place everywhere in Africa where there are elephants, but at least in Tsavo we can help keep them safe by supporting the Kenya Wildlife Service to the best of our ability, which is what the Trust does.

5. How many keepers does DSWT have and how long is the training process?

The Trust employs over 50 elephant Keepers – The early keepers train newcomers as to the basics of elephant care and the elephants themselves teach them the rest. 

6. What has been one of your greatest challenges over the years, either with the work that you do or in another area of your life, and how did you overcome it?

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There are always daunting challenges trying to heal seriously wounded orphans that come to us just wanting to kill every human they see after what they have seen and suffered. But, treated with love and kindness they are very forgiving – it is indeed very humbling, but also heart breaking and emotionally draining. 

 

7. It took you 28 years to perfect the milk formula for orphaned baby aboutdamesheldrick1elephants… and – in your words – “…in the process each one that died
shredded my heart”….Most people would have given up long before that…What kept you focused and committed and hopeful on that long, sometimes heartbreaking journey?

32920061429-pic3I take my courage from the elephants who lose loved ones on an almost daily basis these days, but turn the page to focus on the living. 

 

 

8. Raising an orphaned elephant requires not only meeting its physical needs but also its social and emotional ones. Baby elephants are extremely fragile. They can be fine one day and dead the next…How many months/years does it take until the baby elephant is stronger in all ways?

One can never be sure a baby elephant will live until it is past the milk dependent stage which is up to 5 years.  Baby elephants cannot live without milk for at least the first 3 years of live and need nutritional help up to 4 years of age. 

9. You say: “I have been privileged to live amongst elephants all my life…” Describe one of your most extraordinary moments with an elephant/s…

Every time I watch our hand reared orphans now living wild romping around with the

dependent orphans in a mudbath at Ithumba and Voi, there is a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that “but for us” not one would be alive today.

 

10. Your memoir is called: Love, Life and Elephants…share a little of what the elephants have taught you about life and love?

The elephants can teach us humans a great deal about caring and forgiveness, and also about mysterious communication hidden to human ears – i.e. telepathy.

12102004722-pic411. What is the single most important message about elephants that you can share?

The fact that they are emotionally “human”- better than us in many ways, peaceful by nature, forgiving and humblingly caring of the young.

 

12. I love this powerful statement by you: “I am convinced that what we humans lack today is a reverence for life, and that this is something we should try and engender. We should understand and accept that others that happen to share our planet with us are not ours to manipulate and consume according to our whims but are here for a purpose. They, too, have rights because they are a vital to the well-being of the whole; an integral link in the complex chain of life. They belong to, and are a part of the natural world, of which we humans are also just a part. They are not here simply to be utilised according to the dictates of human vanity and greed as a mindless commodity.” What can the average person who loves elephants, rhinos etc. do to support Tsavo, the rights of all creatures and encourage others to do the same? 

32920061429-pic6Support the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust either for specific projects such as the orphans project, anti-poaching initiatives or for the protection of wild habitats and all they harbour. We work with the Kenya Wildlife Service which is the Government entity in charge of all wildlife in the country, and are in the unique position of being able to influence events at the field level since we have a significant presence at the field level of protection and conservation and can make a significant difference where it is most needed.

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