The elephant orphanage sits in a corner of Nairobi National Park. Each morning, for an hour, tourists come from all over the world to watch the orphans guzzle bottles of milk formula fed to them by their keepers.
On any given day, there may be as many as 30 baby elephants. Many have lost their mothers to poaching; some may have fallen down wells or into a gravel pit. All of them have been orphaned — or abandoned — as a result of human activity.
Some were saved by dramatic rescues; nearly all are traumatized by the loss of their families.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, named for one of the original park wardens — now deceased — of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park and run to this day by his widow, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, and her grown daughter Angela Sheldrick, nurtures the elephants to the age of three, by which time they are relocated to a specially designed compound at Tsavo with a mind to eventual release back into the wild. Once back in the wild, they often join wild herds, where, even in a semi-perfect world, they have a chance at living happily ever after.
The orphanage and relocation program are financed in large part by micro-donations from ordinary, everyday people. USD $50 a year allows anyone to sponsor a specific baby elephant, with a name, past history and a human minder for companionship in the baby elephant’s formative weeks, months and even years.
Angela Sheldrick’s passion is elephants; her hobby is painting, mostly watercolours. She paints each orphan who comes into the sanctuary’s care. Sponsors get a watercolour print of their chosen baby, and the circle of life — and art — carries on.
The Sheldrick orphanage will be familiar to anyone who’s followed conservation programs in the news; career foreign correspondent Bob Simon once profiled Daphne Sheldrick for 60 Minutes.
Angela Sheldrick’s watercolours are a lesser-known part of the project, however, which is why I’m sharing a few of them here.
Across Africa, on the continent as a whole, elephant numbers have dropped by half, to 360,000 from an estimated 700,000 in 1990.
The fight is on to save them, one sponsor and one watercolour at a time.