Here Daphne Sheldrick shares a brief and loving memoir of her husband, Davidís life.

David Sheldrick was born in Egypt on 23rd November 1919, under the sound of gunfire during the First World War, when his father was serving with the British Remounts. Both David's parents were born in British India, his father an English Coffee Planter in the Nilgiri Hills and his mother an English lady of noble birth raised on one of the famous Houseboats in Kashmir. Born in Egypt and christened in the Seychelles, David first came to Kenya as a babe in arms, when at the end of the First World War his father came to Kenya as part of the British Government's Soldier Settlement Scheme. Davidís father bought and took possession of a virgin piece of Africa, which he developed into a thriving Coffee Estate near Mweiga. The famous Treetops Hotel, where Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 was on the Sheldrick's Mweiga Estate and was originally built by David's father.

An only child, David's very English parents wanted the best for their son, and were prepared to make tough sacrifices in order to achieve this. David was sent to England for his schooling at the age of six; firstly to a Preparatory School and thereafter to the prestigious Canford School. For the next eleven years he grew up in England, spending holidays on a Scottish Estate. David did not see his parents again until he returned home, having left school at seventeen years old. When he eventually came back to Kenya as a young man, he walked straight past his mother at the railway station without knowing who she was. During his school career he excelled both in sports and academically, but especially in practical skills such as woodwork. He boxed for both his schools throughout his school career and remained unbeaten. He was a skilled marksman and an outstanding horseman, excelling on the Polo ground. In fact, David excelled in everything he undertook.

Having returned to Kenya, he worked on a highland farm on the Kinangop until the outbreak of the Second World War when he underwent the Officers Training Course at Nakuru, before being drafted to The King's African Rifles, seeing active service in both Abyssinnia and Burma. David was quickly promoted to Major, the youngest officer in the K.A.R. to achieve this rank and be given his own command of a battalion - the 5th Kings African Rifles. At the end of the War he was amongst those chosen to represent Kenya at the Victory Parade in London.

Thereafter he joined the first Tented Safari Company to be established in Kenya, the famous Safariland, and was in Tanzania escorting the then Aga Khan on safari when the Kenya National Parks appointments were first advertised in 1948. The famous Game Warden, Archie Ritchie urged the Director of National Parks, Colonel Mervyn Cowie, to keep a post open for David Sheldrick who was already a very well-known personality in the colony. On return from the Aga Khan safari David applied and was accepted for the position and in April 1948 became the founder Warden of Kenya's largest and most important National Park - Tsavo. He was 28 years old at the time.

David's career within the National Parks was equally as illustrious. For two years he walked the Park on foot, following elephant trails, only to find that poaching was already a very serious threat. A combined force of Game Department and National Parks personnel plus the Police was established under David's command, and for the next three years the poaching problem was tackled and satisfactorily resolved.

David was ahead of his time. Way back in the early fifties, he was the first person to initiate a comprehensive collection of all the food plants of elephants, long before any Scientist had even thought of studying elephants. Each plant was analysed for mineral content and nutritional value. He was the first to study the movement pattern of elephant herds, and was able to counter the scientific theory that the Tsavo population comprised of just 10 discrete populations, rather than just one.

He was the first person to rescue and hand-rear orphaned elephants (but was successful only with those over two years of age). Many other orphans of misfortune were also taken in, nurtured and set free when grown, including Black Rhinos and most antelope species. David always insisted that any wild animal orphan ultimately must go free. Through the rearing of these orphans, David Sheldrick gained an in-depth understanding of the animal psyche and his knowledge of the fauna, the flora, the birds and the insects of his Park was unparalleled at the time. In his small private laboratory he conducted many experiments to fuel his quest for knowledge and gain an understanding of the intricacies of nature.

An in-depth study of all archival material relating to the habitat of Tsavo, as it was when the railroad from Mombasa to Nairobi was installed at the turn of the century, was undertaken and masterminded by David. Long hours were spent perusing the descriptions of people such as Patterson, Krapf, Lugard, Meinetzhagen, Rebmann and Carl Peters. All anecdotes relevant to the Tsavo area were compiled into one volume in order to gain an overview of what the vegetation of the area must have been like a century ago, including a written understanding of the natural processes of plant succession he was observing taking place. He traced the root systems of the main tree species of Tsavo, carefully exposing and photographing them, comparing them to the root systems of the perennial grasses that were beginning to become established as the elephants modified the habitat from Commiphora woodland to grassland.

Using the orphaned elephants, he undertook experiments to determine the nature of an elephant's digestive tract; how long an orange took to pass through an elephant's gut and appear in the stools during the course of a day, weighing the dung against an estimate of fodder intake, and analysing the protein content of the dung. He was the first to understand how nature has made the elephant the most fragile through its inefficient digestive system, passing 6% of protein in the dung.

He undertook a study of the small rodents and frogs of Tsavo, compiled a checklist of the birds and snakes, and created a herbarium over a five year period, with every plant photographed in situ and in flower and thereafter pressed. One specimen of each now rests in Londonís Kew Gardens, another in Nairobiís herbarium and a third stored at the Research Centre at Tsavoís Voi headquarters. David has a small tree frog and a red mite named for him. He was the first person in the world to discover the presence of what is now known as Sheldrick Falls in the Shimba Hills Forest - something that not even the locals knew existed.

He made a study of the parasites specific to Black Rhino; the Rhinomusca flies that breed in the middens, the Filarial parasites responsible for the shoulder lesions often seen in Rhino, and other parasites specific to these ancient animals such as the Gyrostrigma fly. He was the first person ever to hatch one of these flies from a bot taken from the dung of one of our orphaned rhinos.

When David Sheldrick first came to Tsavo, soon after it became part of the Royal National Parks of Kenya, not one road or building existed. Twenty-eight years later he left Tsavo East fully developed with an infrastructure that was unmatched anywhere in East Africa, including over one thousand kilometres of all-weather roads, one and a half thousand kilometres of administrative roads and three hundred kilometres of anti-poaching tracks. Extensive headquarters and workshop were also constructed during this period in addition to five Park Entrance Gates, an extensive concrete causeway across the Galana River, the first self-catering lodge at Aruba, a vast mad-made lake, and several boreholes and windmills installed to alleviate the harsh droughts in this arid region during the dry season. More importantly, he left Tsavo the successful blueprint, which has been the model for today's paramilitary Field Force Rangers, geared to combating the armed incursion of bandit poachers.

David Sheldrick was spared having to witness the plunder of his Park in the late seventies, eighties and early nineties, which reduced its great elephant herds from 20,000 in number to a mere 6,000. But one thing we do know is that today he would have been proud of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and all of its conservation efforts over the years, as well as the hugely successful Orphansí Project. David can look down proudly on the results of the stand he made over the elephant issue, and he would have approved of how the elephants have transformed sterile arid scrubland into a mosaic of rich habitats harbouring a greater biodiversity than ever before. And he would most certainly have approved of the record of the Trust that so proudly carries his name and strives so tirelessly to follow the guidelines he established in life, perpetuating his unbending integrity and ideals, still acting as a custodian of "right" in Tsavo, still working to protect and nurture that great wilderness that David loved so well in life, and doing so bravely without fear or favour, just as he would have wished.

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