Protector of the Giants - An evening with Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE, London 7th September 2010 - Article from the Elephant Commentator

On 6th September 2010 our Protector of the Giants photography exhibition, organised by our UK charity, opened its doors to the public

On 6th September 2010 our Protector of the Giants photography exhibition, organised by our UK charity, opened its doors to the public. This week long exhibition was held in the Pavilion, at the Royal Geographical Society in London and featured a selection of photographs showcasing the African Elephant.

The purpose of the event was to make people think about elephants and to show them how beautiful and magnificent these animals are, while at the same time highlighting their fragility on an individual and species wide basis. Professional photographers Nick Nichols, Joachim Schmeisser, Gary Roberts and Robert Carr-Hartley all generously donated works to be reproduced for the event, featuring wild and orphaned elephants. With the DSWT providing additional mounted works specific to the orphans' project. While sculptures Cemmick & Wylder brought a life sized bronze baby elephant whose creation was inspired by the orphans and whose name means 'Life'.

In addition to the photographic exhibit, and arguably the highlight of the Protector of the Giants event, was a talk by Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick on the evening of Tuesday 7th September, in the Royal Geographical Society's Ondaatje Theatre. This ticket only event offered a unique opportunity to listen to Dame Daphne talk about her lifetime's work dedicated to the protection of elephants, and other species. Tickets for the event were sold out before the night, with some 700 guests in attendance, all of who were captivated by Dame Daphne, from her first word to her very last on the night. We have included at the end of this update an account of the evening written by two passionate elephant supporters, as we feel their account captures the essence of the evening quite perfectly.

We aim to have a DVD of Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick's talk available to buy within the next 4 weeks, which will include a new short film about the charity, which was first shown at the event. We will post details about the availability of this DVD in due course.

In the meantime we would like to express of thanks to all those people that attended the Protector of the Giants event, either during the week or on the night of Tuesday 7th September. Between you all we were able to secure much needed funds for the protection of elephants in Kenya, through the sale of signed photographic prints, charity merchandise, new elephant fosterings and donations. We would also like to our key event sponsor National Geographic Channel, as well as Bloomsbury Finance, for their kind support and of course our volunteers for their time and effort.

An account by Space4eles

The London subway was on 24-hour strike, so the buses and roads were jammed – but the sun shone, supporters were able to meet at the photographic exhibition and on the outside terraces, and Daphne held the attention of 700 people as she talked passionately and with great energy about the 50 years of her life devoted to elephants.

The evening began with an excellent new overview film – Daphne and Angela talking about the early days with David; their growing contact with Tsavo’s wild elephants; the formation of the DSWT and its triumphs and tragedies over the years to the present day. It was good to hear loyal head keeper Edwin talking about his work.

So much information came across in Daphne’s talk that it is impossible to record it all here, but much can be found on the Trust’s website, and also in Daphne’s early books – “The Orphans of Tsavo” (1966), “The Tsavo Story” (1973) and “An Elephant Called Eleanor” (1980).

Daphne talked of individual elephants over those 50 years: Aisha, Burra, Lualeni, Lissa, Malaika, Mweiga, Aitong, Madiba … and the rhinos Shida, the permanently blind Maxwell, and little Maalim (who, at rescue, was small enough to fit into a handbag and did not require the big plane that was sent to collect him!).

The orphans are often given Swahili names which relate to their place of rescue, since this enables the Trust and foster parents to immediately recall the history of the elephant.

Daphne especially mentioned Yatta. The stand-off between her, assisted by some of the wild elephants who have returned to the northern part of Tsavo, and the pride of lions who had come one evening to drink at the Ithumba water trough. Yatta shepherded the orphans into the stockades and then, with the wild elephants, kept vigil at the trough all night, forcing the lions to retreat 25 miles to drink at the Tiva River. Yatta again, at the end of the line of orphans returning to the stockades, stopping the orphans before they rounded a bend and then coming to the front of the line, where a puff adder lay in the middle of the path. How did she know the snake was there?

When talking about Aitong, Daphne said she thought that Aitong would eventually return to the stockades, and that she might be keeping away because she feared her calf might be taken away from her – something elephants may do.

Daphne talked of her wonder at what is being learned of elephant character, perception and communication - their genetic memory, their fear of small creatures, their strong family bonds. How the Trust’s young bulls, often in pairs, are sent out to find missing milk-dependent orphans who have not returned to the stockades in the evening. How Mweiga, when ailing, was never left alone by her elephant “family”.

When an ex-orphan returns to the stockades, the keepers do not approach the elephant but allow the elephant to approach them. Even if the elephant does not approach, this does not mean that he/she does not remember the keepers, but rather that he/she does not want to attract human scent. Eleanor, who returned to the Voi stockades after 10 years, was not known by the keepers who first saw her, but later she recognised a man who had been one of her keepers over 30 years before; she approached him and greeted him warmly.

The evening was punctuated with sobering facts of the lives of Tsavo’s wild herds and the problems facing Kenya as a whole – the effects of a drastically changing climate; corruption in high places; a burgeoning human population with 60%+ unemployment; the growing Chinese presence in Africa, its increasing power in the Kenyan economy, and the subsequent increase in poaching for ivory; domestic cattle streaming into the elephants’ homelands and polluting the waterholes, leading to elephant calves dying of hitherto undiagnosed diseases. Daphne, once again, spoke of the need to “turn the page” when an elephant orphan dies; to learn from the suffering, and move on.

All in all, an evening of celebration of Daphne’s work - the joy and the sadness, the victory and the loss – and a standing ovation at the end. Daphne expressed her thanks to those who have supported her work on many levels – the inspiration of her late husband, David; the input of daughters Jill and Angela; the dedication of the orphans’ keepers; DSWT UK manager Rob Brandford and his team; and all present in the hall for their company in spite of travelling difficulties.

I am certain no-one present will forget this evening with Daphne and Angela. And we hope that they and all at DSWT will take strength from it to continue their work for the protection and survival of the precious African wild elephants. Daphne was asked a final question about that survival. Her reply was that the elephants of Africa as a whole face a grim future; but that the country where they have the best chance of survival is Kenya ….

Our thanks to Space4eles for allowing us to include their account, which has been posted on the Elephant Commentator