I believe that once our lives on Earth are complete, a legacy should be left behind, a sort of mantle like that that fell from Elijah in the Bible. I am speaking of that life-long work that is ordained and touched by God. In 2018, Daphne Sheldrick, the sweet lady pictured above, succumbed to the evil that is cancer. Her life and work was, no doubt, touched by God. Always writing of the African experience, I felt it necessary to share her legacy. Though I could attempt to write the account, I could not top the following from The Guardian.
Very few obituaries come close to this one:
"Dame Daphne Sheldrick obituary
Renowned conservationist dedicated to saving orphaned elephants and releasing them back into the wild
Elephant babies like coconut oil. This discovery has saved the life of hundreds of orphaned, unweaned elephants, left behind when their mothers were killed, victims of the ivory wars that have catastrophically reduced elephant populations across Africa.
The discovery came after two decades of efforts by the renowned conservationist Daphne Sheldrick, who has died aged 83. She devoted most of her life to rescuing young elephants and releasing them back into the wild.
When she first made attempts to keep the orphaned babies alive, often at one or two years old, with other milk sources, they remained malnourished and faded into death. It was only after trying every combination she could find that she hit on one baby milk formula from Europe, which contained coconut oil, that seemed to work. She and the elephants never looked back, and now more than 230 elephants in Kenya, and many others in Asia and other parts of Africa, are alive, and mostly in the wild, thanks to her hand-rearing.
Her work grew from her care of orphaned elephants found by her husband, David Sheldrick, chief warden at the Tsavo National Park in Kenya in the 1960s. By the time her sanctuary was well-established, in the late 70s and 80s, each elephant had its own stall, as otherwise they would disturb one another, was bottle-fed every three hours, and was given blankets, raincoats and sunscreen as needed. A keeper slept with each animal under a year old, alternating lest the babies grow too dependent.
Often, the elephants arrived traumatised, having experienced the lethal violence and cruelty of poaching. It was crucial, in her view, to recognise their grief and help them to overcome it. “They are emotionally human animals,” she told journalists. “You have to think in human terms. How does a child feel when it has lost its whole family and is suddenly in the hands of the enemy?”
Throughout her life, Sheldrick championed the ability of elephants to communicate and their capacity for feeling. Once, she recounted, a female wrenched the tusks from a newly killed bull elephant and threw them into the jungle, before the eyes of the poachers. On another occasion, an elephant she approached in the wild, mistaking it for one of her former charges, ran at her and hurled her into the air. When she landed, leg broken, the elephant approached again and she feared a fatal blow. But instead it carefully examined her with its trunk, nuzzling and testing to see if she could stand. She wrote afterwards she believed it was because she had been recognised as a friend.
Sheldrick was one of the earliest advocates of a total global ban on ivory, as against the halfway house solutions proposed by some of allowing sales of ivory captured from poachers to be sold to benefit the countries that had caught them. And she was forthright about where the problem lay: China, with its rampant demand for ivory trinkets as status symbols. “The world has got to drive China to ban all sales of ivory,” she said.
She was born the third of four children, in Kenya’s Rift Valley, where her parents Marjorie (nee Webb) and Brian Jenkins farmed. Her family, originally from Britain, had come to Kenya after settling in South Africa in the late 19th century. From an early age, Daphne was fascinated by wildlife: aged three, her first pet was a young bush buck. She was educated at Kenya high school but instead of taking up an offered place at university, at 19 she married Bill Woodley, a game warden in Nairobi National Park, with whom she had a daughter, Jill.
The Mau Mau insurrection followed, during which Bill was engaged on the government side, and later they went to live in Tsavo National Park. There, Daphne had a life-changing encounter with the charismatic Sheldrick, the first chief warden of Tsavo and one of the main figures who shaped it as an international beacon of conservation. He too was married but recently separated. Soon after, recognising that her marriage to Bill was over, in 1960 Daphne married David.
Tsavo was one of the first extensive wildlife parks in the world, and a model for many to follow. Sheldrick gloried in the opportunities it offered, making her home a haven for orphaned and abandoned wild creatures from dikdiks to rhinos, and increasingly with baby elephants whose mothers had been killed by poachers.
In 1976, the idyll ended as David was recalled to Nairobi. A year later, he died aged 58 of a heart attack. Bereft, Daphne took solace from the elephants she looked after, later writing: “I thought about the elephants and felt humbled, knowing how stoically they deal with the loss of loved ones on an almost daily basis, how deeply they grieve but how they do so with courage, never forgetting the needs of the living. Their example gave me the strength I needed.”
She set up the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in her husband’s memory, and operated her elephant orphanage from Nairobi National Park with outposts in Tsavo.
Sheldrick was made a dame in 2006. She also received one of Kenya’s highest honours, the Moran of the Burning Spear, was named in the UN environment programme’s global 500 roll of honour, recognising outstanding environmental achievers, and was an honorary doctor of Glasgow university. Her autobiography, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story, was published in 2012.
She is survived by her daughters, Jill, from her first marriage, and Angela, from her second, and by four grandchildren." - Fiona Harvey, The Guardian.
Thank you, Daphne, for leaving that legacy. May we, like Elisha, request a double portion so that we can do even greater works.