When, in 1994, a cow elephant looked up from the muddy pool in which she’d been drinking, raised her ears and walked up to Daphne Sheldrick, she assumed the creature must be her old friend Eleanor. Orphaned at two, Eleanor had been raised by Sheldrick before returning to the wild. Now in her forties, Eleanor would still leave the herd and run to greet her adoptive human “mother” when she saw her.
The elephant now allowing Sheldrick to caress the folds beneath her chin was stockier than Eleanor, but Sheldrick assumed she’d just put on weight – until the moment the elephant took a step back, reached out her trunk and sent Sheldrick flying “like a piece of weightless flotsam, high through the air with such force that I smashed down on a giant clump of boulders some 20 paces away. I knew at once that the impact had shattered my right leg,” she writes.
Sheldrick closed her eyes and began to pray. But instead of kneeling down and crushing the prone woman with her trunk and forehead, the animal standing over Sheldrick inserted its tusks between her and the rocks. It was trying to get her back on her feet, coaxing her up as she would a calf. Later, Sheldrick would discover that her attacker knew Eleanor. And she believes that Eleanor had “told” the wild female about her.
For over 30 years Kenya-born Daphne Sheldrick lived and worked alongside her husband David, during which time they raised and successfully rehabilitated many wild species. Daphne Sheldrick’s involvement with wildlife has spanned a lifetime, and she is now a recognised International authority on the rearing of wild creatures and is the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for infant milk-dependent Elephants and Rhinos.
Since the death of her husband, Daphne and her family have lived and worked in the Nairobi National Park, where they have built the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and its pioneering Orphans Project, into the global force for wildlife conservation that is today.
Daphne 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. She was educated at Nakuru Primary School then Kenya High School where she matriculated in 1950 with Honours and the possibility of a bursary for University Entrance in the Cambridge School Leaving Certificate, achieving the position of 8th in the Colony. Instead Daphne opted for marriage.
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. The BBC Documentary “Elephant Diaries” depicting her work with the orphaned elephants, has received world-wide acclaim, as has the 3D IMAX film ‘Born to be Wild’, featuring the Trust’s orphaned elephants and the orang-utans of Burma.
For her work in this field Daphne Sheldrick was decorated by the Queen in 1989 with an M.B.E. Following this she was elevated to U.N.E.P.’s elite Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1992 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery by Glasgow University in June 2000.
In December 2001 her work was further honoured by the Kenya Government, who presented Daphne with a Moran of the Burning Spear (M.B.S.), followed by a prestigious accolade in 2002 by the B.B.C. of 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.