Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

A Book Review

Thank you, Nicster, for another book that turned out to be an amazing read.

This book is for anyone who loves animals; true stories of how humans can prevail and show incredible compassion. It is a story well written by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. She walks the reader through her life, giving great history to how her British roots ended up in Africa. She shares how her people showed incredible resilience, even in the toughest of circumstances and an unforgiving climate. She is honest and open about her life, in both love and life in the African  wilderness. Her family had to overcome unbelievable obstacles with local tribes, laws that changed by the day and a government that left them to fend for themselves, after selling her ancestors, along with many British families, parcels of land to encourage migration into Africa. Instead of running back to their homeland, they stayed and they survived, but it was not easy. Along with hardships, and political unrest, they persevered and had children, who later had families of their own. Because of their steadfast beliefs and hard work, came Daphne and her selfless life giving back to the wild, saving not only elephants, but rhinos, eland, giraffes and everything in between. She gave with her entire soul, loving every creature that came into her life, grieving those she lost along the way. It was not easy, unfortunately many infants in her early animal husbandry days did not make it because it was trial and error and instead of giving up, she continued tweaking the recipes for formula until she found the correct scientific equation. It was heartbreaking to read her despair for each loss, but her never-ending vitality and her unstoppable force in finding the save all was awe inspiring. Unfortunately, the elephant babies needed a specific formula unlike the rest of the animal kingdom so there were a lot of little ones that died in the experimenting phase and because of them, they now have an amazing orphanage for not only elephants, but any animal who has lost their families to poaching, droughts and human conflicts with farmers. She recently died from breast cancer but her children and staff will carry on her legacy for generations to come.

On another note, I must also add that those she sought to employ were from local tribes and many have been with the David Sheldrick Foundation for decades. They know the land, the surrounding people and they are able to venture into the wilderness and survive the harsh climate while they take care of each orphan animal. They are a family, both in the human sense and in the animal kingdom. Many orphans who “graduate” to the reintegration unit and then later into the wild come back to visit their human families whom they regard as their parents. It is both heartbreaking and uplifting in many ways. 

It is a book that I would recommend. 

The Messenger

I’m always amazed at the thoughtfulness and generosity that has been shown to me from my online community. My last PO Box run was to pick up a few packages, and to mail off a big panty order. In one of the packages that was waiting for me was a beautiful messenger bag adorning elephants, which was not on my wishlist. Bubba, you have always been thoughtful and kind, thank you! I have already used it and love it! It is the perfect size to carry with me on over night trips and it will definitely be my go to bag now. It makes me smile each time I see it and it already has some Abby hair on it because she thought it would be a good idea to sit on it when I had it on the floor. The moral of that story is to stop placing items on the floor when they belong on a shelf, put away… 

Manatee’s, Roo’s and Elephants Make the World a Better Place

My biggest obsession would be elephants, but I have always had a love of manatee’s and kangaroo’s, as well. Manatee’s are just sweet, adorable and they are the only species that are safer in captivity than any other animal. Kangaroo’s fascinated me as a child because they hop and skip along with not a care in the world. Elephant’s need no explanation here…

Last year, for my first Christmas as a single person, Cliff sent me a box of ornaments that he had specifically made for me. Unfortunately, they did not arrive in time to adorn my tree, but this year they played center stage. We had a very simple tree with just a few bulbs, which is what I wanted, and the ornaments I had from Cliff added a special touch to a very happy holiday. Thank you, Cliff for your kindness, and, of course, your thoughtfulness. Although, they did not make it last year, they will definitely play a role in my holidays from here on out. 

… This Just In …

I have 20 peanut patties, but after counting them, there is only 16 total. I am currently eating one, as I type this. That will leave 15; three of which are in the freezer, 12 are in my snack locker. 

And, I still think I missed my calling. I should have been a PROFESSIONAL elephant hugger! 

Wile E. Coyote

As a kid, I loved Wile E. Coyote. He made me laugh and shake my head at the same time! I am not sure where my love for him came from. It could be that my maternal g’ma gave me a stuffed Wile E. on my 6th birthday and then my parents took my twin and I to see the elephants at the San Antonio Zoo. Although, not something I would do today, Dad and I rode one of the eles and I just wanted to hug and hug and hug on him. Dad took his cowboy hat off and pretended to be riding a bucking bull. Mom snapped a polaroid of Dad getting bucked and me just laughing my fat little face off. 

What was your favorite cartoon?

I Want…

… an elephant! I mean, seriously, if you know me at all, you know this is not a joke. I really did miss my calling. I should have been a PROFESSIONAL elephant hugger! 

Meet Malkia

This post has been a long time coming, and one that Dwwindsor has gingerly suggested a few times. In November I chose to foster a sweet elephant; her name is Malkia. 

Here is her story:

Walking the plains of Tsavo for many years has been a regal old lady, always easily recognized by her distinctive ivory. This year however, the dry season has been long and harsh and with poor April/May rains, it proved too much for this aging female elephant, who was found collapsed with a young calf by her side.

Elephants have six sets of teeth to last them a lifetime, and as the years progress new sets come through, however once they are on their very last set of teeth these get worn over time, and there is nothing like a brutal dry season to amplify this problem. We believe this is what happened to this beautiful matriarch.

A driver from Tsavo Trust first reported the situation to the DSWT funded Mobile Veterinary Unit’s Dr. Poghon, when they found the mother recumbent on the windswept Dika plains, withered and gaunt and in extremely poor body condition, but with no evidence of any wounds or injuries. Her family stood vigil as the DSWT’s Rescue Team together with KWS rangers lifted her to her feet multiple times. Sadly, she was unable to stand and just crumpled to the ground each time. It was clear her life force was ebbing away and it would be necessary to rescue her young milk dependent calf, approximately six months old, who already was undernourished, presumably as a result of her mother’s compromised condition and lack of milk. 

This old queen of the plains was humanely euthanized to save her the indignation and suffering of being torn apart by predators, whilst her baby was rescued as night approached and was then driven to the Voi stockades where she was placed in one of our taming stockades. She had greens carefully cut for her which she fed on throughout the night, and Keeper Julius slept in the stockade bunk-bed close to her, to keep her company. The presence of an interested army of dependent Voi elephants surrounding her stockade helped settle her as they rumbled in low tones, comforting and reassuring her. She even slept for a while having endured quite the ordeal; how long her mother had been in a collapsed state before being discovered is unknown.

We have called this gorgeous little girl Malkia, which means ‘queen’ in Swahili, in deference to her lost mother, who for sure walked the Tsavo plains even in David Sheldrick’s time, when he was warden of Tsavo some 40 years ago. Considering her impressive ivory, she was lucky to have lived out a long and full life. Now it is our responsibility to look after her precious baby until she too can walk the same plains in the fullness of time as a wild elephant once more. 

In the meantime, both lifesaving milk and tender care and attention is necessary to save a calf, so a rescue aircraft was immediately dispatched the next morning on the 17th of September with our Nursery Keepers on board, to collect the baby and bring her to the Nursery for the care that we are able to administer here. When the Cessna Caravan aircraft landed on the Voi airstrip our Voi Keepers were already there prepared and ready with the baby, eager to load her quickly so as not to delay. Her screams however attracted a wild herd passing by the airfield at the time and a wild matriarch was insistent on rescuing the distressed baby. So much so that her agitated herd were fast approaching the stationary aircraft on the airstrip. The DSWT driver had to position the Landcruiser vehicle between the wild herd and the loading party so as to prevent a disaster from unfolding. This herd is not her family herd, as she was orphaned many miles away from the Voi airfield.

The baby was prepared for the flight, laid on a mattress, placed on a canvas stretcher so she could be ably lifted into the back of the plane, which had already had the seats removed allowing for ample space for her to lie recumbent throughout the 1 hour flight with a Keeper by her side. She was hydrated with a drip for the duration of the flight and arrived safely at the Nursery by 1.30pm in the afternoon. She immediately fed on milk for the first time since being rescued, which was a relief, but she did look exceptionally tired and was ready to lie down on the soft hay of her stable to sleep.

Malkia has thrived in the Nursery, aided by her forceful nature. She is a very determined and mischievous little girl, whose presence here has certainly been felt. Despite being so young when rescued, and under such sad circumstances, she has settled fast; loving and affectionate to her Keepers from the outset.

Malkia and her little friend Esampu have become extremely greedy and vociferous at meal times, with every feeding time accompanied by noise and barging! Despite being so small they can be extremely disruptive giving the Keepers quite the run around. We are happy to report that Malkia has assimilated into Nursery life seamlessly and appears extremely happy and content amongst the other orphans and her now much loved human family.

A Family Bond

It is well known that I want an elephant. They truly should be admired, loved and worshipped. Here is something that one of my Ele sites posted this morning and it is worth a share:

They say that nothing is more important to an elephant than family.

Elephants are well-known for their complex, multi-layered social networks led by an older female. Known as the matriarch, these wise female elephants carry with them a lifetime of inherited wisdom that helps the whole herd survive; where to find water, where to find food, when to avoid danger.

While studies of African elephants show the clear dominance of the matriarch in a herd, for Asian elephants the hierarchy appears to be a little more relaxed. Scientists suggest that this may be because Asian elephants live in more ecologically robust environments, where food and water is generally available and predators are few. Yet the importance of inherited wisdom remains critical for herd survival.

In elephant families:
• Females are in charge: most herds are made up of a matriarch, her sisters, daughters and calves. Family units range in size from 3 to 25 but they sometimes come together in much larger gatherings around watering holes and food sources.
• There are babysitters: the females help look after each other’s calves. It helps young females learn how to look after the young. The chances of survival greatly increase for a calf when females are around and willing to take care of it.
• There is a strong bond: elephants develop strong bonds between friends and family members. They mourn the death of loved ones and have been known to return to areas where family members have died.
• Calves are protected: when the herd is on the move the calves will sometimes hold their mother’s tails with their trunks, while other females surround them to protect them from danger.
• Males tend to be nomadic: adult male elephants live a largely solitary life. When they reach puberty (12-15 years old) the males become more independent and often join more loosely knit ‘bachelor’ herds. They will mate with a female but leave the mother and her herd to raise the calf. 
• Sometimes the family separates: this can be influenced by availability of food and water, how well the herd gets on, or the death of a matriarch. This means that different herds living over vast terrain can be related and are known to keep in touch through rumbling calls.

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In the past year I have learned that family does not always consist of those we are born into, but those we meet and love along the way. Family are those that check on you when the fun has run out and life has set in. Family is what you make it along the path you have chosen, and those that deserve your love and respect in return are who your family will be. Cherish those closest to you and no matter the distance, they will always be there when you need them the most. 

No Politics

I have an unspoken rule, but a well known one at that, which is my cam room, tweets and blog is no place for politics. I understand, and respect, that we all have a right to free speech and opinions, but important issues are not resolved on social media and in cam rooms. We as a whole are so divided that it is disheartening and there is no real solution, nor will we see one any time soon. Those who spin conversations into political arguments are hurting themselves and changing nothing. 

I am not writing this to call anyone out, but I have had several replies to my tweets about our current politics that do not belong on my TL. I am sorry, but my disdain for the treatment of elephants in other countries, such as being forced into submission for tourism, has nothing to do with the current state of the US of A and the hate being spewed from all sides of the aisle. Now, with that said, we as a whole can change how elephants are treated, but that is not in the here and now of what is going on in our country. 

I have a diverse group with a wide range of opinions and experiences, and for the most part, we all get along regardless of whether or not we agree with each other. And, for that I am appreciative. 

A Heartwarming Read . . .

This is an excerpt from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust 

Our Ex Orphans seek help for an injured bull elephant

The intelligence of elephants and their compassion for one another will never cease to amaze and inspire us – as demonstrated in Tsavo yesterday. Yatta, Mulika and Kinna, orphans raised by the DSWT and now living wild, appeared at our Ithumba Reintegration Unit with their calves Yetu, Yoyo, Mwende and Kama, accompanied by Lenana and Sidai, two other now wild-living orphans, and a very nervous wild bull elephant. Our team immediately saw what was troubling the bull elephant, whom they had never seen before – he had two arrow wounds on his back and side. Though brought to a place known to the ex-orphans as one of safety, this wild bull’s fearful behaviour was completely understandable, given the presence of humans. For him, it was people that had fired the arrows and caused the pain he was surely suffering.

We immediately raised the alarm and while KWS Veterinarian Dr. Poghon, based 150km away in Voi, prepared the equipment he needed, one of our pilots flew to the scene in a fixed wing aircraft to keep an eye on this bull from the air, in case he decided that hanging around near humans was not such a good idea. Once ready, we then brought Dr. Poghon to Ithumba by helicopter and he was able to successfully dart the injured elephant from the air. The elephant fell in thick bush, so our ground teams got to work quickly clearing a path to him and then moving him into a position where the vet could assess his injuries and treat the wounds. The treatment was a success and Dr. Poghon has given this bull elephant a good prognosis for recovery.

Being able to successfully treat this elephant, one of 1,136 elephants to which the DSWT and KWS Mobile Veterinary Teams have attended to over the last five years is impressive enough. However what is truly incredible in this case is that, were it not for Yatta and the other ex-orphans, he might not have found help and would still be out there today, suffering from the injuries which could easily have killed him.

Yatta, Mulika, Kinna, Lenana and Sidai had no reason to visit Ithumba yesterday, except to bring this wild elephant for help. They knew where he could find that help and they communicated this to him. Injured at the hands of humans, it is hard to imagine what this elephant must have been thinking as the ex-orphan herd brought him to a place of people. However he is fortunate that they did, as their actions – and subsequently those of the DSWT and KWS – ensured he could be treated.

Incredibly, this isn’t the first time our teams have treated an injured elephant in similar circumstances. Back in 2015, we treated a wild elephant who was known to our Keepers and who, we are certain, travelled back to Ithumba to get the help and treatment he needed, along with his injured companians, (read the story here: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/updates/updates.asp…) demonstrating that this Unit is fast becoming known as a place of helping hands and safety, which is thanks to the contributions we receive from our global supporters that help to fund our lifesaving field work.