Daphne Sheldrick, DBE, just left us at the age of 83. She was the “mother of elephants” (Tembo mama in Swahili). She founded the “Orphanage” near Nairobi where orphaned elephants (due to poaching) are raised, cared for and many later returned to the bush.
In 1967, (I know, fifty years ago and change. Don’t remind me!) we were transferred from Holland back to Africa, more precisely Kenya. A relief, weather-wise and in many other aspects. (Back to magic). In the summer before we moved I bought the book above to learn about our future new home. “Nos amis dans la brousse” (Our friends in the bush) was translated from Daphne Sheldrick’s “The orphans of Tsavo”.
Samson drinking from the tap he had opened
Daphne Sheldrick was born in Kenya in 1934. One of many “wazungu” (white people) born and bred in Kenya. She married David Sheldrick in the mid fifties. David Sheldrick, born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1919 (Servants of the Empire, old chap) was Chief warden of Tsavo national park, one of the largest parks in Kenya. I find it fair to say that the Shedricks – along with a handful of others – invented wildlife preservation. While David fought the poachers with his armed to the teeth park wardens, Daphne “collected” the orphans, baby elephants, baby rhinos, what have you.
David Sheldrick with Baby Samson
Daphne Sheldrick is credited with inventing the correct milk formula to effectively feed baby elephants and rhinos. Just as Joy Adamson (Born free) invented the right formula for lion cubs. Cow milk doesn’t quite cut it.
Daphne Sheldrick at the watering point in Tsavo. C.1965-67.
Not only did the Sheldricks save elephants, they also kept rhinos, mongoose, birds, warthogs. Und so weiter. The English, as a people, have a unique relationship with animals. Not just horses and dogs. Anything. Think Gerald Durrell (My family and other animals) or Gavin Maxwell and otters in Ring of bright waters. Soon the Sheldrick’s house in Tsavo was full of animals inside and out.
Baby Rufus climbing the stairs of the verandah.
Fatuma drinking from the pond
Gregory (the bird) on Jill’s head. (Sheldrick’s daughter)
As I looked over the photos in that old book to compose this post, I realized once more how “peculiar” the life of Wazungu watoto (white kids) in Africa was. Including mine and my sister’s. There was no barrier between fiction and reality. When I closed “The jungle book”, I could be chased by a monkey in the garden, or sidestep to avoid a snake, or go swim in the sea with dolphins at a distance. Not only was there no barrier between the book and Life, we lived inside the book:
Conakry, West Africa, c.1960-61. At another elephant orphanage. I’ve already posted that photo. L. to r. Little sister (never too keen on elephants), my mother and yours truly. But back to Tsavo and the Sheldricks:
Jill with Samson, the (baby) elephant and pickle, the mongoose.
Angela with Rufus the rhino.
I‘ve always wondered whether I would have let my daughters so close to those huge “babies”. Another family, the Douglas-Hamiltons. world specialists of elephants in the wild, also raised their daughter, Saba, with elephants. And as far as Jill and Angela, I understand they are fine and pursuing their parents’ work.
Daphne Sheldrick, in a fashionable early sixties dress and barefoot, leads a young zebra away from the neighbours’ garden.
(All pictures except my own above come from the book: Nos amis dans la brousse, by Daphne Sheldrick, published by Stock, 1967)
Tembo mama? I kinda made that up, but it is grammatically correct as far as my kitchen swahili goes and it does describe Daphne Sheldrick’s work well. The mother of elephants. Asante sana Tembo mama. Thank you elephant mother. Kwaheri sassa. Good bye now.