Born to Be Wild

TFK chats with Dame Daphne Sheldrick about her work with elephants in Kenya, featured in an IMAX film

Apr 08, 2011 | By Vickie An

 

Prepare to embark on an unforgettable journey with Born to be Wild 3D, now playing in IMAX theaters nationwide. The film takes audiences from the rugged savanna in Kenya to the lush rain forest of Borneo, in Indonesia. It's in these two wild places that a pair of extraordinary women have devoted their lives to saving endangered animals.

World-famous elephant expert Dame Daphne Sheldrick and respected primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas have made it their mission to rescue, rehabilitate and return orphaned elephant calves and baby orangutans to the wild. Born to be Wild 3D, narrated by Morgan Freeman, follows their work as they protect these creatures and their homes.

Since establishing The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 1977, in honor of her late husband, Sheldrick and her team have successfully saved and raised more than 130 orphaned elephant calves in Nairobi, Kenya. TFK spoke to Sheldrick about her work with the baby elephants.

TFK:

Where did you learn how to care for orphaned animals?

DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICK:

Learning how to care for the orphaned elephants resulted from understanding how elephants behave in wild situations... plus, just plain common sense. I had already cared for many orphaned wild animals having grown up on a farm in Kenya, but I had never cared for an elephant.

As shown in the IMAX film Born to be Wild 3D, elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust play soccer with their keepers.
DREW FELLMAN—WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT, INC.
As shown in the IMAX film Born to be Wild 3D, elephants at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust play soccer with their keepers.

TFK:

If you had grown up anywhere other than Kenya, do you think you would have the same passion for wildlife?

SHELDRICK:

Definitely. I love all animals, whether they are of the domestic variety or wild. In fact, I love everything that forms part of the natural world. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate the beauty of nature and have broadened my knowledge about the part that every species plays within the environment.

TFK:

Can you describe your first interaction with an elephant?

SHELDRICK:

Having been born and bred in Africa, my first exposure to elephants was viewing them in a wild situation on safari during the holidays. However, my first close-up interaction with elephants was with my late husband's first two orphans, Samson and Fatuma. They were rescued at the age of 2 in Tsavo National Park. I came to love and understand those orphans, and appreciate the sophistication and intelligence of elephants.

TFK:

What was your reason for building the elephant orphanage?

SHELDRICK:

My husband was only 56 when he died in l977. I was only 42 then, which is still young. The idea of setting up The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in his memory, and as a vehicle to [continue] his work, was not my idea. It was the idea of his many friends and admirers worldwide. David was considered to be, at the time, the finest wildlife warden in Africa. He created what today is the famous Tsavo National Park from largely unexplored bush country. After my husband died, there were many orphaned elephant calves that had been rescued. There was no one other than myself who had experience in rearing elephant calves, so I was asked to help. That is how it all began.

TFK:

Do the animals ever come back to visit after they've been reintroduced to the wild? How often does this happen?

SHELDRICK:

The orphans often come back to see their human family and the other orphans based at the two rehabilitation centers in Tsavo. Elephants never forget. They regard all of the orphans as part of an extended family. They recognize and love their human family (their keepers) for life. Elephants are just like us humans—only better than us!

TFK:

What are some of the wrong ideas that people have about elephants that you hope Born to Be Wild will dispel?

SHELDRICK:

The film shows how wonderfully gentle and caring elephants are, and just how intelligent and "human" they are as well. People have to learn to accept that we humans are, in fact, animals. Whether we like it or not, we are still part of the whole. Every species that exists on planet Earth has a role to play. The role of humans has, on the whole, been destructive. Humans need to have more respect for nature. If we continue to ruin it, we threaten our own survival, as well as the existence of many other innocent creatures.

TFK:

What is an interesting fact that people may not know about elephants that might surprise them?

A rehabilitated orangutan cradles her wild-born baby in Indonesian Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park.
DREW FELLMAN—WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT, INC.
A rehabilitated orangutan cradles her wild-born baby in Indonesian Borneo's Tanjung Puting National Park.

SHELDRICK:

There are many facts that might surprise people who do not know elephants well, such as their strong family bonds, their incredible memories and their sophisticated means of communication.

TFK:

What's the most important thing the animals have taught you?

SHELDRICK:

Animals have taught me humility and given me inner strength in the face of adversity. They face much more adversity on a daily basis in their lives. How they cope with tragedy and heartache, by turning the page and focusing on living, has been inspirational.

TFK:

Do you have a favorite memory of working with the elephants?

SHELDRICK:

I have so many... Seeing a baby elephant come back to life, having been almost dead. Watching baby elephants play and interact with one another fills me with joy and pride every day. It counteracts the sadness of those elephants we lose.

TFK:

What can children do to raise awareness of the need to protect endangered wildlife?

SHELDRICK:

Everyone can do something to raise awareness of the need to protect and care for the natural world. Children can raise funds to help those working with animals. They can have respect for nature and wildlife. Children must be able to appreciate beauty and celebrate the beautiful world in which we live.

TFK:

What is your ultimate hope for the animals you care for and for the animals of Africa?

SHELDRICK:

I hope to see all wildlife in Africa protected and nurtured. I would like to see an end to all illegal killing and killing for sport. I would like to see humans live in harmony with the natural world, and become caretakers of it, rather than [destroyers].

TFK:

Do you feel as if you have accomplished what you originally set out to do?

SHELDRICK:

Yes. I am amazingly proud of the wonderful support given to me and the Trust by caring people all over the world. I am particularly proud of my two daughters, who have helped me every inch of the way. I know they will continue my work after I am gone, as will my two little grandsons and two granddaughters. Like the elephants, I have a very supportive and close family. I give thanks for that every day of my life.