Here David Sheldrick’s character is summed up by Tim Corfield, in the Author's Note of "The Wilderness Guardian", the field manual which David's notes and records inspired and which is now an integral part of every field warden's library.

"How can I adequately portray this remarkable man and his achievements? The strong, handsome, weather-beaten face, the hard blue eyes, the powerful frame and large competent hands; the courteous manners, keen sense of humour and clear perceptive mind; his quietness, willpower and endurance, his deep underlying compassion and above all his integrity. To say that he is the finest man I have ever met is inadequate, for what is my experience as a yardstick. I can assert that he was a truly great man; but such a cliché Sheer over-use has blunted the impact of so many powerful words and descriptions. I state simply, then, that in Tsavo National Park a man of quite exceptional stature imposed his will on men and machinery to preserve one of the world's great wildernesses, and thereby set a pattern of development for Kenya's National Parks that was to be the envy of the world. In a tragedy I outline below, this task killed David Sheldrick, but in his death he provided for us immeasurably, both in the systems he left behind, and also in the example of his fight to create a real wilderness sanctuary - not a glorified game ranch, not a Zoo Park, not a scientific experiment nor playground, but an area where wilderness could simply be. Central to his efforts was a belief that wildlife and wilderness were not to be guarded simply for their own sake, but they were a well-spring for our spiritual refreshment - yours and mine and that of future generations.

The Headquarters of Tsavo East under David Sheldrick was an extraordinary world of organisation and discipline. Uniformed Rangers on guard, others setting out on patrol; men in blue overalls tending huge tractors and earth moving machinery, lorries, trucks and trailers lined up for duty; everywhere the drone of machinery and the flash of arc welders as people bustled to and fro in purposeful activity. Then, within a few yards of the Headquarters perimeter, all this was left behind cleanly, and you moved into a contrasting world of thorn-bush and trees, hard horizons and red earth, elephant, gazelle, game trails, birds and birdsong, whisper of grass and rasp of insects - that stirring entanglement of life and space that is an African wilderness. Especially space, huge unfettered space; a vast openness that circles the horizon and arcs across brazen skies; an openness the cloistered townsman cannot comprehend, but which moves him, maybe even frightens him a little, whose timelessness exhilarates. Here the animals are left to live out their lives with the minimum of interference, as they have since time immemorial. Men and machines hold so much potential for domination and destruction, but David Sheldrick willed them the servants of this wilderness.

If you mentioned the word "development" to him, in the context of National Parks, a guarded look would come into his eyes for he was conscious always that the effects of development so easily become a spreading cancer of concrete, steel and squalor; an agglomeration of more and more machines and facilities for more and more people. National Parks he saw as areas offering escape from precisely these things. To properly guard a wilderness a man must have command of an exceptional range of special skills. To quote David himself:

"A National Park Warden is required to carry out many and varied duties. Firstly he must had administrative ability for he will be in charge of a large staff responsible for the development and maintenance of roads, buildings, dams, boreholes, firebreaks, airfields, water supplies etc. He will be responsible for the training and welfare of an armed Ranger Force. In order to do this successfully he must first understand the meaning of discipline - to take orders and give orders in such a manner that they are obeyed. At the same time he must not ask those under him to perform tasks that he would not be prepared to do himself. He must have an understanding of ecology, be capable of reading and drawing up maps and plans, working out costs and preparing realistic estimates, be able to fly an aircraft, have a basic knowledge of the Law, be familiar with the habits of wild animals, and conversant with the use of firearms, for it may be necessary for him to destroy wounded or dangerous animals. He must be able to do this cleanly and without emotion. He should be an ambassador of National Parks at all times and show initiative and resourcefulness greater than that called for in most professions. Above all, he should be absolutely dedicated and of the utmost integrity"

David Sheldrick had all these skills, and more.

He had spent time - snatches of it and long unbroken stretches in the quiet company of wild animals and he had learnt to observe and study them with sympathy and understanding, not in the superior and arrogant manner of the Scientists chalking up knowledge, but with the humility and empathy of a born naturalist. His alert and enquiring mind was finely tuned to the complexities of Nature, and the time he spent quietly absorbing her ways engendered strong convictions and a deep underlying confidence in her. This, as much as anything else, fuelled his dogged defence of a natural solution to Tsavo's much publicised "elephant problem" (in the early seventies). There were expedient options open to him, which would have appeased the critics of his policies, but David Sheldrick knew that to take these would be an abrogation of his duty both as a Warden and a man. His resolve, then, to protect the wilderness was absolute, and he turned resolutely away from embarking on any precedent that could prove dangerous or lead to abuse, thereby jeopardising the sanctity of the Park he had created and loved so completely.

David's illustrious career with the Royal National Parks of Kenya was honoured in the 1962 Queen's Birthday Honours when he was awarded an D.B.E. His name is also immortalised in the World Wildlife Funds Roll of Honour. Posted to Nairobi at the end of 1976, he went bravely, and such is the mark of the man that he also went without bitterness, and he launched into his new duties with characteristic vigour. But Tsavo was still there, her wild spaces crying for protection. The home territory needed him as never before, her animals suffering an onslaught of killing and cruelty unprecedented in all her written history (under the new totally Government controlled Wildlife Conservation & Management Department.) As Tsavo had set a mark on his soul, so his life without it was exile. As David once laughingly remarked "You can cut an old tree down, but you can't transplant it". His good natured humour never left him, but in that remark lay the truth. The old soldier simply could not turn his back and leave. He died on the 13th June 1977 from a massive heart attack.

His wife, Daphne, was beside him when he died, as she had been throughout their married life. Her love and loyalty and her own steadfast qualities gave him strength and purpose when times were dark, and brought fun and laughter into their home. Her garden was an oasis of gentleness and peace in a harsh environment, a place where wild animals could come and go, always welcome, always free. There could be no consolation for her loss, but from David's example there came strength and resolve to continue the purpose of his life. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was created in his memory, and as its Chairman, Daphne has been guiding its conservation activities ever since."

Tim Corfield

 

A Practical Guide to Conservation – The Wilderness Guardian

This comprehensive field manual was compiled from David Sheldrick’s notes and records, whilst also encapsulating the field experience of other long serving Wardens throughout Africa. The DSWT has made this guide available to all National Parks in East Africa and beyond offering vital knowledge, field notes, tips and experiences that would otherwise have been lost. The Wilderness Guardian now forms an important part of the wildlife management curriculum in most African seats of learning. It is viewed as a lasting tribute to the dedication and expertise of the late David Sheldrick and other early Wardens like him who selflessly established the conservation principles and ideals that have formed the foundation of Kenya’s National Parks, which were once internationally acknowledged as the finest parks in the world.

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