Would you believe that when Charlie and I got married, one of our favorite wedding gifts weighed nearly 5,000 pounds? And we’ve never seen it in person. This massive and dear-to-us present is named Tusuja and he is an African elephant who lives within the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in East Africa. We’ve just signed up to sponsor Tusuja for another four years and hope, one of these years, to meet him and experience the life he lives as a fortunate recipient of all the amazing work done by the Trust.
As a foster parent to four-year-old Tusuja, we receive monthly updates on his progress, as well as watercolor paintings by Angela Sheldrick of the orphan elephants within the Trust. We plan to collect the notes and artwork and keep a journal of Tusuja’s time at the orphanage and ultimate reintegration into the wild. What a treat it is, when it’s a particularly stressful or busy day, to take a quiet moment and read about Tusuja’s day with his fellow elephants. He plays pushing games with Galla, rolls around in the mud with Maramoja and grazes in the fields with Ukame. The updates bring our foster “baby” right into our home, despite his being half a world away.
In the past year, I’ve taken the time to learn as much as I can about the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which was established in 1977 in honor of the famous naturalist David Leslie William Sheldrick MBE. Upon his death in 1976, he left a legacy of excellence in the management of Tsavo East National Park in Kenya and in the field of wildlife husbandry and ethics. Today, the Trust is managed by David’s wife, Daphne, who continues his stalwart commitment to Kenya’s conservation efforts.
In the words of Karen Sugden of Africa House Safaris, “Daphne Sheldrick is probably the most important person in the world of elephants. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that the plight of the elephants has improved immensely in the 30 years that Daphne has built up the Trust to what it is today — a thriving rescue center for orphaned elephants, and a worldwide awareness to their diminishing numbers due to poaching and the ivory trade.”
Tujusa is living proof of the Trust’s Orphans’ Project success and world-wide acclaim. According to the Trust, the project offers “hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they struggle against the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought.” They have hand-raised more than 150 infant elephants who might otherwise have perished, and instead were successfully reintegrated into the wild herds of Tsavo. And, in fact, the Trust can claim many healthy calves born in the wild to former-orphaned elephants under their care.
I urge you to visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website to learn more about their heroic efforts to preserve the land and wildlife of East Africa, from conservation efforts to anti-poaching support to the elephant-fostering program. In today’s world, a little hard work and passion can go such a long way to bettering the life of someone else, even, in this case, an elephant on another continent. Perhaps you’ll consider one of Tusuja’s cousins for the next wedding gift you give?
Note : We are deeply saddened to hear about the demise of Dame Daphne Sheldrick on the eve of publishing this article. Her incredible legacy lives on through the lives of the many baby elephants and the efforts of the dedicated and hardworking team in Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.