since becoming the the first person to hand rear newborn elephants, daphne sheldrick (sesen in the first picture) has spent over half a century helping to care for more than 140 of kenya’s orphaned baby elephants.
sheldrick operates her nursery and orphanage with the help of 55 keepers, each of whom is charged with becoming a full time around the clock paren - though it is the elephants who chose their parents and the keeper who must ingratiate himself to them and earn their trust.
when baby elephants first arrive, they are traumatized from having witnessed the slaughter of their mothers and family by poachers. grieving can last several months, and they often lose the will to live. unable to fend for themselves in the wild, and dependent on their mother’s milk, they also arrive in poor health.
many also find it difficult to socialize with the other elephants. but keepers are quick to encourage socialization (as seen in the fourth photo), which is the best way to get them back in good health and spirits. the elephants care for one another, and the older ones are quick to nurture the younger ones (the eighth photo shows older elephants lying down so younger ones can play on them.)
ultimately, the elephants are released back into the wild, but they often return for medical care and to show off their own children. as sheldrick says, “their sense of family is as strong as ours… all the females are very maternal, even the young ones. the caring and nurturing is far greater in elephants than it is in humans, and loyalty and friendship endures.”
photos by brent stirton and mike nichols. see also: daphne sheldrick’s memoir, “love, life and elephants - an african love story” and these previous posts on the keepers of the orphanage and on the emotional and intellectual lives of elephants