National Geographic : 2011 Sep
Daphne Sheldrick, who founded the Nairobi Elephant Nursery, makes her evening rounds. In 1987 Sheldrick, a pioneer of wild animal rehabilitation, became the rst person to rear a newborn orphan African elephant. e plight of elephants has become so dire that their greatest enemy---humans---is also their only hope, a topsy-turvy reality that moved a woman named Daphne Sheldrick to establish the nursery back in 1987. Sheldrick is fourth-generation Ke- nya-born and has spent the better part of her life tending wild animals. Her husband was David Sheldrick, the renowned naturalist and founding warden of Tsavo East National Park who died of a heart attack in 1977. She's reared abandoned baby bu alo, dik-diks, impalas, zebras, warthogs, and black rhinos, among others, but no creature has beguiled her more than elephants. Orphan infant elephants are a challenge to raise because they remain fully dependent on their mother's milk for the rst two years of life and partially so until the age of four. In the dec- ades the Sheldricks spent together in Tsavo, they never succeeded in raising an orphan younger than one because they couldn't nd a formula that matched the nutritional qualities of a moth- er's milk. Aware that elephant milk is high in fat, they tried adding cream and butter to the mix, but found the babies had trouble digesting it and soon died. ey then used a nonfat milk that the elephants could digest better, but eventually, a er growing thinner and thinner on that formula, these orphans succumbed as well. Shortly before David's death, the couple nally arrived at a pre- cise mixture of human baby formula and coconut. is kept alive a three-week-old orphan named Aisha, helping her grow stronger every day. It was Aisha that revealed to Daphne another essential ingredient for raising an orphan ele- phant. When Daphne traveled to Nairobi to pre- pare for a daughter's wedding, she le Aisha, then six months old, in the care of an assistant. In the two weeks she was away, Aisha stopped eating and died, apparently overcome with grief at the loss of another mother. "When Aisha died, I realized the mistake I'd made," says Daphne, still pained by the memory. "She missed me too much. You mustn't let an elephant get too attached Charles Siebert wrote about e orts to preserve the diversity of our food supply in the July issue. Michael Nichols is an editor at large for the magazine. His upcoming elephant book is Earth to Sky.