Fueled by the criminal ivory trade, which has been operating without impunity for decades, an alarming number of elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, which are hacked off and sold on the black market. Sadly, it’s these poor, gentle giants who endure the immense suffering that it causes.
This year alone, Kenya has lost some 250 elephants, with many infants and young left behind.
Rescuing and raising orphan elephant calves is a challenging task. Part of the difficulty is that infants are fully dependent on their mother’s milk until they’re two years old and are not fully weaned until around four or five.
Thankfully, one woman has taken that duty into her own hands. Since 1977, Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick has taken on the responsibility of raising these elephant orphans herself. She wants to make sure that these beautiful animals are saved and no longer injured or butchered for their tusks.
Baby elephants can’t tolerate the fat in cow’s milk. Finding a suitable substitute for elephant milk took Sheldrick 28 years of trial and error before she hit on a formula that contained coconut oil—likely the nearest replacement for the fat in elephant milk.
To date, she has fostered over 250 calves, first in partnership with her husband, David Sheldrick, founding warden of Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park and a legendary naturalist, and later (following his death in 1977) as part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT), which she founded in his memory, reported National Geography.
Sheldrick says that raising an orphaned elephant requires not only meeting its physical needs but also its social and emotional ones.
“Many are severely traumatized by what happened to their elephant family and just want to die,” Sheldrick says.
Daphne’s main objective is to make sure that these animals heal so that they can once again return to the wild and help repopulate the wild herds that have been shrinking in numbers.
Daphne feels so passionate about putting a stop to the ivory trade that she has even opened her arms to rhinos as well. Their numbers have declined so far, that they are on the brink of extinction.
The video below shows Sheldrick interacting with these wonderful animals. Such a bittersweet story and such wonderful people!
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Compassion goes a long way, pass it on!