Pause for a Cause: Protector of Giants

While Conservationists Howl

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and corrupt governments fail to address the ongoing slaughter. Africa’s elephants are being poached toward extinction to fuel the worldwide ivory trade. The once robust population of Africa’s elephants (30 million) has been reduced to about 10 percent of their original population in the last 30 years. Startling statistics show that an elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its tusks. At this rate, elephants in the wild will be extinct in 10 to 12 years. But one brave family has been working for decades to stem this tide.

Founded in Kenya in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, in memory of her late husband, David Sheldrick, the naturalist and founder warden of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embraces David’s vision for the protection of wildlife and habitats and undertakes a variety of projects aimed at ensuring a viable future for animals and people, where they might live in harmony.

Elephants are one of the most, if not the most, intelligent creatures on earth. Their emotions and intelligence are very similar to humans. They grieve loss and show incredible empathy towards each other by both physical contact and audible conversations. More similar still is memory—it is true an elephant never forgets. Young elephants that have experienced assaults on their psyches may exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress, just like orphaned children in the wake of war or genocide.

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From the front lines of crisis, the DSWT witnesses horrific cruelty to these gentle giants and strives to rescue their orphans. Orphaned elephants are often in a state of shock by the time they are rescued. Many baby elephants die within hours of being orphaned, some from pure heartache and despair, others left helpless and vulnerable to attacks by predators, and some starve within just a few days. For an elephant, family is all important: a calf’s very existence depends upon its mother’s milk for the first two years of life. It took Daphne Sheldrick nearly 30 years of trial and error to perfect the milk formula and complex husbandry necessary to rear an orphaned infant African elephant.

Once rescued, the keepers and orphans return to the nursery and the long process of healing both mental and physical wounds begins. During the time it is dependent upon milk, a team of trained caretakers who represent the lost elephant family are there for the elephants 2 hours a day, spending three to four days and nights with the little ones (even sleeping with them) before switching out for another keeper. This schedule allows keepers to have human families of their own while also ensuring that the orphaned elephants do not become wholly dependent and attached to just one person—who they likely will see as a mother figure in the early years.

Orphans are bottle fed, socialized with other orphans and, when they are a bit older, taken out into the wild to associate and learn from wild elephants. The orphans are kept until such time as it is comfortable amongst the wild herds and chooses to become independent. The time involved depends entirely upon the personality of each individual and also upon how well the elephant can recall its elephant family, but all the orphans reared by The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust are “elephants” again and integrated into the wild community by age ten. Though always in their large elephant hearts will be a corner for the specific humans who were their family in infancy.

The rearing of an infant elephant is an expensive and long-term commitment. The DSWT is completely dependent on donations from people worldwide. Please consider adopting an orphaned elephant this holiday season.

The Baby Elephant Foster Parent Programme

The DSWT fostering program is digital, thereby keeping admin costs down. Postage around the world is a cumbersome administrative expense that we are now able to avoid through the internet. Any queries about the fostering program can be directed to

Via email, your gift will include:

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  • A fostering certificate with a profile and photograph or your adopted orphan together with a description of the Orphans’ Project.
  • An interactive map indicating where your orphan was found and a description of the habitat and the plight of the elephants (or Rhinos) in that particular area.
  • A monthly summary highlighting events of the previous month together with a direct link to the ‘Keepers Diary’ for your elephant. In the diary you will be able to access the daily calendar entries and the monthly photos. These updates can be printed off to enable you to keep a journal highlighting the progress of your orphan.
  • Along with the update you will receive a collectable monthly watercolor by Angela Sheldrick.
  • From time-to-time, you will receive news of new arrivals and rescues written by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick with accompanying photographs.
  • And most importantly, as one of our foster parents, you are considered part of the DSWT team and we will be keeping personal contact with you as an important member of our project. Any queries about the fostering program can be directed to :

Why We Need Elephants

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Many people don’t understand the vital role that elephants play in the delicate dance performed throughout the African ecosystems. Elephants are considered a keystone species in the African landscape and play a key role in maintain the balance of all other species in the community. Elephants pull down trees and break up thorny bushes, which help create grasslands for other animals to survive. They create salt licks that are rich in nutrients for other animals. They also dig waterholes in dry river beds that other animals can use as a water source, and their foot prints create deep holes that water can collect in. Elephants create trails that act as fire breakers and water run offs. Other animals, including humans, depend on the openings elephants create in the forest and in the waterholes they dig.

Elephants dung (droppings) is important to the environment as well. Baboons and birds pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts. The nutrient rich manure replenishes depleted soils so that humans can have a nutrient rich soil to plant crops in. Elephant droppings are also a vehicle for seed dispersal. Some seeds will not germinate unless they have passed through a elephant’s digestive system. With the dispersal more trees are created—this is why elephants are often called Nature’s Gardeners. Of course, with more trees comes more forests and more forests mean more global carbon capture. Simply put, without elephants may other species will die off and humans as well as the earth as we know it will be in grave jeopardy. Increased global warming will spiral and the damage will be wide spread and may be irreversible. Losing a keystone species will impact us all.


Today the DSWT is the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world having saved more than 150 orphaned elephants, and one of the pioneering conservation organizations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa.

Why is the DSWT needed?

Young calves are tended to not only by their mothers, but also by other females of the herd. There are many eyewitness accounts of the females in the herd gathering around to welcome the new-born. Within minutes of the birth, the mother and other females trumpet and rumble. This kinship and social contact allows the young elephants to successfully reach other stages in life cycles. Infancy is not only an important time for the young calves, but also for the young mothers-to-be. It is through the close interaction and kinship between the two that allows the young females to develop necessary skills required for motherhood. When an elephant is orphaned they miss out on all of these learned experiences. Elephants development is very similar to humans an in infancy they are all but helpless.

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The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust raises orphan elephant from across Kenya in stages that mirror maternal care in the wild. Most of these elephants were orphaned by poachers or by farmers protecting crops. Many are infants separated from their group after falling into wells dug for livestock. Elephants, especially females will stay with their family for life following the matriarch and learning integral skills and survival techniques passed down from generation to generation (such as where to look for water in droughts). When elephants are poached and the babies removed from their herd, these important lessons are lost.

How Long do elephants live?

The simplest—through slightly misleading—answer to “how long do elephants live?” is, somewhere between 60 and 70 years.

But that’s only how long they can live if everything goes well for them. Like people, elephants die at all different ages, and most don’t make it to the end of their species’ maximum lifespan. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Guleph in Ontario, Canada, examined records kept on hundreds of wild and captive African elephants that died between 1960 and 2005. They found that about one third of female African elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park lived past the age of 50, with a median age of 56 years for elephants that died of natural causes. The researchers added that, because people frequently kill elephants from the Amboseli population, the overall median lifespan for the park’s female elephants, regardless of how they died was 36-20 years shorter than it would have been under completely natural (free from human interference) conditions.

How long do the keepers stay at DSWT?

Most keepers stay for up to 10 years raising the orphans.

Are all keepers local?

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Yes. DSWT believes that by enabling local Kenyans the opportunity to play a part in the hand-raising of orphans it creates an affinity with the species. The keepers then share this conservation message with their families and communities further spreading this essential conversation.

How big is the Tsavo Conservation Area?

The Tsavo Conservation Area is over 24,710 square miles. This much space is quite adequate to provide a high quality of life for the elephant. In the wild, elephants rage widely over a variety of different terrain types and typically travel long distances. African elephants are estimated to walk up to 50 miles per day if food is scarce. If food is plentiful elephants travel a few miles a day and mostly stay close to a water source.

What are you doing to protect the elephants?

Having already invested so much into their care and wellbeing throughout the reintegration process, and with the goal to see them enjoying life in the wild, keeping the ex-orphans safe remains very much a priority. For that reason, the DSWT operates nine Anti0Poaching Units working in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), of which eight are based within the Tsavo Conservation Area, as well as four DSWT/KWS Mobile Veterinary Units. Together with an Aerial Surveillance Unit, consisting of two Supercubs, a Topcub, a Cessna 185 and a Hughes 500 helicopter, all of which cover thousands of miles on patrol every moth. The ground and air teams are working around the clock to keep the ex-orphans, wild elephants, and other wildlife safe.