Kenya's elephant orphans the last hope for an endangered species

  • 11/08/2018

Meet Kenya's elephant orphans.

At the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust near Nairobi, keepers care for these little guys 24 hours a day.

Alongside her late husband David, Daphne Sheldrick founded Kenya's biggest national park, the Tsavo, prominent for its efforts towards saving elephants.

After his death in 1977, Daphne founded the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, to rescue orphaned elephants.

She was the first person to successfully hand-rear a milk-dependent new born elephant and rhino. More than 230 orphaned elephants have been saved in Kenya as a result of her expertise.

Daphne Sheldrick died in April 2018 aged 83.

The team's work goes far past bottle-feeding the babies. Elephant keepers must also nurse the rescued elephants back to health. Many were attacked by the same humans who killed their mothers.

The animals depend on their caretakers as much as any human child would. The keepers rotate their bottle-feeding duties so the elephants don't bond too closely. Otherwise, at age three, the pain of leaving their "parents" in the nursery would threaten the elephants' survival in the wild.

Project administrator Kirsty Smith says that World Elephant Day - August 12 - is an important opportunity to highlight the plight of these iconic mammals.

"World Elephant Day is all about elephants. It is a chance for us to celebrate elephants and remember them. It is a chance to share them on social media and talk about elephants all over the world.

"We have to remember that elephants are still in trouble in the next, we stand to lose over half the population of the elephants left in the next 10 years.

"So although the situation, and especially in Kenya, is good in terms of poaching we have made long strides in order to counter that and work hard towards, sort of organisations like the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and others in Kenya have done a fabulous job in combating that problem of poaching along with the government and the Kenya wildlife service.

"But it is still an issue and habitat loss as well. So elephants are still facing many problems across Kenya and other African countries so it is a chance for us to celebrate elephants but also remember that we also need to do our best to look after them and do our best to protect them."

An endangered species

The world's largest land mammal, the African elephant has been classified as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act since 1979.

Illicit demand for elephant ivory has led to devastating losses from illegal poaching as the natural habitat available for the animals to roam has also dwindled by more than half.

As a result, the number of African elephants has shrunk from about 5 million a century ago to about 400,000 remaining. And that number continues to decline each year.

According to the United Nations, as many as 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012. For forest elephants, the population declined by an estimated 62 percent between 2002 and 2011.

But the battle to save Africa's elephants is gaining some momentum. Legal ivory markets are shrinking worldwide, and law enforcement has broken up some international trafficking syndicates.

But it's far too early to declare a turnaround. Poachers are moving to new areas and traffickers are adapting, aided by entrenched corruption.

A ban on commercial trade in ivory across international borders went into effect in 1990, but many countries continued to allow the domestic buying and selling of ivory.

In a move to crack down on demand, earlier this year Britain announced a ban on ivory sales. In China, trade in ivory and ivory products is illegal as of 2018. And in the US, a ban on ivory apart from items older than 100 years came into place in 2016.


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