In Memoriam - Dame Daphne one year on

Published on the 12th of April, 2019

It is hard to believe that on this day, 12th April, it has already been a year since Dame Daphne Sheldrick, my much loved mother and the Founder of the Trust, passed away. She is greatly missed in Kenya’s conservation circles and the world, but for the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) team left behind we have been hard at work continuing her life’s work and realizing her dreams for the future, which has brought us great comfort and keeps Daphne ever present. It has been both humbling and inspiring to behold the love and admiration held for Daphne by so many, which fills us all with such enormous pride.

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I would like to thank you all for your steadfast support throughout this difficult first year, during which time we at the SWT have felt your commitment to Daphne’s memory and life’s legacy stronger than ever, which is absolutely how she had wished it to be. For it was the natural world and the animals that she was most passionate about, and it is that passion and her determination that she imparted to us all; a passion to do better, to do right, to do more, and a determination to make that all important difference, that each and every one of us is capable of making. Daphne’s life was lived in a very pure, real and understated way, yet her achievements were colossal. They continue to unfold every day, leaving us all in awe at the difference one person can actually make, and just how important it is for us all to continue what she began and shaped at a time when she could not possibly have ever imagined in her wildest dreams where the journey she embarked on might lead.

A piece Daphne wrote in 1979, shared below, is so extremely poignant as she states it was her greatest wish to behold one of the orphans she had raised and nurtured from infancy grow and in the fullness of time have their own wild born young – today that has happened a staggering 30 times already, and that figure is set to escalate exponentially with over 20 rescued female orphans nearing breeding age, over and above those who have already had young and will continue to have more.

Few people stand out more as one of the world’s greatest role models than Dame Daphne.

“A very special feeling flooded over me when I contemplated my orphans; the sort of feeling I knew David must have experienced a hundredfold when he contemplated the Park he helped create, Tsavo; a feeling of great achievement; a warm glow of pride; of deep satisfaction and contentment; a feeling of identity – almost even of creation, for by being instrumental in giving life to one animal, many others had a chance to live. It was, I suppose, a feeling of worthwhile contribution and success, of having led a life that was constructive rather than destructive for only creativity brings true peace to one’s soul. So easy to destroy, so difficult to create, but also so much more fulfilled in every way. One last triumph I longed for, was to be able to look with pride on an animal like an elephant, born of a mother I had nurtured from the start, and think, deep inside my heart, “ But for me…….”

The sunsets of Tsavo are always beautiful – breathtakingly beautiful – as though to focus attention momentarily on the sky, and remind us where all life begins. I was reminded of many things at the close of every day as the sun sank. Firstly of the beauty that surrounded us, and of the miracle of creation; of the blissful happiness of our closely knit human family. Paler tones in the east reminded me that although all things fade, continuity was assured, just as another equally glorious sunrise would paint the sky in the morning.

I thought about life and what went into it: tragedies as well as triumphs, sorrows as well as joys; even dying was very much a part of living – the end of a beginning rather than an end at all. And, I thought about my many orphans, those present and those past, and about the contribution they had made to my life, not only in the hours of enjoyment they had provided , but also in a better understanding of life; of the wilderness and its creatures, teaching me many things I could otherwise never have understood, and enabling me to know the fulfillment which I have described.

Sometimes, I wondered what the future held, for them and for us as well, but one thing I knew, no matter what the future unfurled, I would always be able to look back on the past, pick my story from the pages of my life, and begin “Once upon a Time.”

Dame Daphne Sheldrick (1979)