Eleanor's Story

Eleanor was rescued in Samburu by Bill Woodley who was on Safari at the time with the Governer of Kenya and his wife, Sir Patrick and Lady Eleanor Renison. The reason for her being found abandoned was never clear, but it was thought the 1961 dramatic floods may have played their part.

Eleanor's Story

She spent the first year of her life under the supervision of the late Bill Woodley in Mweiga, then Warden of the Mountain Parks. Later she was transferred to the Nairobi National Park Orphanage, but not before a visit to State House to meet her name sake, Lady Eleanor Renison, Eleanor would have died at the orphanage where her condition was deteriorating had David Sheldrick not persuaded the then Director, Col. Mervyn Cowie, to release her and allow her to join the elephant orphans in Tsavo East at that time, namely "Samson" and "Fatuma" who had several younger calves with them. Both Samson and Fatuma eventually joined the wild herds in the mid sixties, but Eleanor remained to look after those left behind, becoming the self appointed Matriarch of the Tsavo herd of orphaned mixed animals. This encompassed several younger elephants named Kanderi, Aruba, Sobo, Raru and Bukanezi, rhinos Rufus (subsequently killed by lions), Reudi (since died of old age in Solio Ranch) Stroppie and Pushmi, (transferred to Solio Ranch in 1976 and still living) eight buffalo orphans, a zebra, 5 ostriches and various other waifs and strays. Because she remained, Eleanor survived the poaching holocaust of the seventies, eighties and early nineties that gripped Tsavo when David Sheldrick died and she has shared with Daphne Sheldrick a great deal of heart-ache over the years. During the years of trial and error when Daphne battled to unlock the mystery of how to raise the infant milk dependent orphans, many calves orphaned younger than two died and with the demise of each, both Daphne and Eleanor grieved.

The Big Elephant Die-Off of the early seventies when Nature trimmed the then Tsavo overpopulation by 10,000 once the elephants had overtaken their food resource, was another heart-rending period that left deep psychological scars on Eleanor. This was followed by rampant poaching when entire elephant herds were gunned down by Somali poachers armed with automatic weapons. During this terrible period in the history of Tsavo, Eleanor was an outcast with the wild herds due to her friendship with humans and because she remained behind to care for the orphans. Subsequently, she was kept standing by the roadside by corrupt Attendants who took to extracting payments from the tourists who were encouraged to come and view her for a fee. It was not until the late eighties when Daphne Sheldrick managed to regain control of the Orphans again that Eleanor, now in her late thirties, had an opportunity to go free and fraternize at will with the wild elephants.

She formed strong friendships with two wild Matriarchs, with whom she spent a lot of time, and in June l996 she left her adopted family with one of them since named "Catherine" and went off on her own, we suspect to give birth to her first calf. Since departing, Daphne saw her with wild elephants, but there have been subsequent reports of Eleanor seen with a young calf at foot. And so, after all these years, Eleanor has at last been rewarded in a befitting manner, blessed with a baby of her very own and now at peace amongst the wild elephant community – a wild elephant at last, something that eluded her for three full decades.

In the late eighties, Eleanor recruited another wild orphan into her group whom we subsequently named "Thomas" and who was about l0 years old when he joined her. He and Olmeg teamed up to become dominant to the combination of Taru and Chuma, but Thomas left when Eleanor left, and being "wild" from the start, has not felt the need to keep in touch with the human family or the other orphans he knew just briefly.

Eleanor’s reluctance to return to the Stockades and keep in touch with her human friends can be explained by the fact that she fears we will take her calf from her, having over the years witnessed the arrival of many orphans from the Nairobi Nursery, Female elephants that have lost their natal family always try to rebuild another, often resorting to trying to hijack young calves from other groups, something Eleanor herself was guilty of in the case of Mary’s baby, and when she coaxed Mpenzi away from Malaika.

Adopt Eleanor for yourself or as a gift.

Adopt Eleanor for yourself or as a gift.

Current Age

65 years old



Rescued date

15 January 1961

Rescue Location

Samburu, Samburu National Reserve

Date of Birth (approximate)

1 April 1959

Reason Orphaned


Age at Rescue

21 months old (approx)

Current Location

Living Wild

Eleanor's featured photos

Our digital adoption programme includes the following:

Personalised adoption certificate.

Monthly email update on your orphan and the project.

Monthly watercolour by Angela Sheldrick.

Access to special content; latest Keepers' Diaries, videos and photos

Give Eleanor the gift of life by adopting today.

Eleanor's Calves

Meet Eleanor's wild born offspring.



Several unconfirmed reports sighted Eleanor with a young calf in 1996. In 2006, Eleanor was sighted again with the same calf, now ten years old and pictured here.



In 2006, one of our Voi elephant Keepers sighted an ex-orphan, believed to be Eleanor, in the company of a new calf.

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Eleanor's latest photos

We think Eleanor and her wild family ambled by