It is 10:30 a.m. and a small caravan of cars has formed in the driveway of the Sheldrick Wildlife Elephants facility, in the Karen neighborhood of Nairobi, a center for orphaned and young elephants that have been rescued in recent years, victims of human action or the simple loss of their mothers. Some workers in green coats order giant baby bottles (about 10 liters of milk). At eleven in the morning a bell rings and, in single file, like children in a kindergarten before recess, some meter and a half-tall elephants come out of their rooms, screaming with excitement. None cares about anything other than finding their favorite monitor, who they surround with their trunks so that the bottle is fitted into their mouths. Finally, breakfast. It takes no more than half a minute to empty the first bottle and another half to empty the second. That’s it. Once satiated, they look for their friends and play together, coating themselves in the mud before searching the area full of foliage that they continue to eat, now without so much craving, like someone after dessert, out of gluttony, snatching up some chocolate. The tourists who have arrived first take the best photos.
For more than 25 years, Daphne Sheldrick (Kenya, 1934-2018) lived and worked with her husband, David Sheldrick, the founding naturalist of Tsavo Oriental National Park. Thus they began to successfully breed and rehabilitate many species of wild animals. Daphne was the first person to perfect the formula needed for suckling elephants and the first Kenyan to be appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire upon the East African nation’s independence in 1963.
Upon her husband’s death, the David Sheldrick Memorial Appeal became an independent non-profit organization. To date, more than 244 orphaned elephants have been raised by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and, importantly, have been returned to the wild – the real success of the project.
As the elephants are petted by the tourists, one of the volunteers holds a microphone and explains aspects of the fight against poaching, the protection of the natural environment, community awareness and veterinary assistance to animals in need. He then names them one by one, telling the story of each one. For example, the little Taabu, who was born in 2020, who was found dehydrated by the drought in the mountains of Taitá. Salt Lick Lodge staff observed it rummaging through the scorched grass, ignored by passing herds and vulnerable to predators. Throughout the entire rescue of him, he never seemed agitated or overwhelmed. “Taabu”, comments the monitor, “he has an always cheerful character, he is very sociable, he always wants to be in the thick of all the action”. It is precisely Taabu who with his jovial spirit approaches me when I call him by his name and I start recording him, and to thank me he throws me to the ground making the phone fly to the screams of the neighbors. It has been a caress.
“Family is everything to elephants,” adds the monitor before taking them back to the refuge. “While every orphan hears the call of the wild in due time, the bonds that bind them to their human-elephant family at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust last a lifetime. Orphans often set out in the wild alongside those they grew up with, and many revisit our reserves from time to time. Almost all wild orphans who share this joy with their human family usually do so immediately after giving birth.”
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