Dame Daphne Sheldrick dies after long battle with cancer

Daphne Sheldrick with Rhino
Dame Daphne Sheldrick with a rhino. Photo: Facebook/theDSWT

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust have announced the sad news that well-known Kenyan conservationist Dame Daphne Sheldrick has died following a long battle with breast cancer.

Born in Kenya in 1934, Dame Daphne dedicated over 60 years of her life to the protection of Africa’s wildlife and some of the world’s most iconic and threatened animals.

She spent around to 30 years of her life working alongside her husband David, the founder warden of Kenya’s largest National Park, Tsavo East, as they forged this unforgiving wild land into a protected space for Kenya’s largest elephant population and all manner of wild species.

Daphne Sheldrick with elephant
Dame Daphne Sheldrick with one of the baby elephants rescued by the trust she founded. Photo: Facebook/theDSWT

After her husband David passed in 1977, Daphne founded The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) and, over the next 40 years, helped shape the world’s understanding of elephants and rhinos and, critically, she played a pivotal role in the protection of these species.

She was the first person to successfully hand raise a milk dependent new born elephant and rhino, knowledge that has helped save the lives of 230 orphaned elephants in Kenya, and countless other infant elephants across Africa and into India.

Daphne lived alongside elephants and learned to read their hearts, much as they read ours – she understood their fragility, their intelligence, their capacity to love, to grieve, to heal, to support one another and she took those lessons to the global stage. In doing so, Daphne became a leading voice for elephants, never through a desire for the limelight, only ever driven by her belief that elephants, and other wild species, have a right to live a free and protected life – just like us.

Dame Daphne Sheldrick
Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Photo via Twitter/DSWT

A statement written by Dame Daphne’s daughter Angela Sheldrick on the DSWT’s Facebook page read:

“It is all very raw but I must share with you the passing of my incredible mother Daphne Sheldrick.  What an example she was to us all, and I feel blessed to have been able to call her my Mum because she was quite simply ‘one of a kind’. She was a national treasure and a conservation icon.

“Daphne passed away the evening of the 12th April after a long battle with breast cancer, a battle she finally lost.

“Her legacy is immeasurable and her passing will reverberate far and wide because the difference she has made for conservation in Kenya is unparalleled.

“She will be sorely missed, but never forgotten, and this is what Daphne drew the most comfort from in her final weeks; knowing that her memory and work would continue with the tiny steps of baby elephants for generations to come and that the work that she pioneered has been able to achieve so much for wildlife and wild places throughout Kenya.

“She died knowing that she will continue to make a difference each and every day upon a land that she held so dear to her heart through the work of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, thanks to a dedicated team she leaves behind.

“Daphne was fortunate to live long enough to preside over mud baths at Ithumba with well over 100 orphans, ex orphans and wild friends frolicking, and be able to say to herself, ‘but for I’. What a gift she leaves us all with, as she really is a shining example of the finest of humanity.

“Thank you all for your love and passion and support.”

Daphne Sheldrick was decorated with an MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 1989 for her dedication to conservation in Kenya.

Many honours followed and in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List, she was once again honoured by the Queen who appointed her to Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the first Knighthood to be awarded in Kenya since the country received Independence in 1963.

On hearing the sad news, actress and DSWT patron Kristin Davis Tweeted: “Daphne Sheldrick , founder of DSWT and matriarch is now united with her husband and so many elephant friends- we will miss her strength and love. But she will continue to guide us towards doing what is right for animals and the natural world.”

Daphne is survived by two daughters and four grandchildren.

If you would like to make a donation in Dame Daphne’s memory, please click here. Alternatively, if you are based in the USA, you can make a donation through the US Friends of the David Sheldrick Trust here.

Daphne Sheldrick with a baby elephant
Photo: Facebook/theDSWT