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The story of two women in different parts of the world who pioneered the work of rescuing, raising and releasing orphaned animals back into the wild. Dame Daphne Sheldrick is the first person to successfully raise baby elephants. The orphans are eventually placed in Kenya’s Tsavo national park. Doctor Birute Mary Galdikas works in Bornea to save infant orangutans. A new film documents the investment – physically, emotionally and financially – to care for animals whose life span is similar to our own. On this month’s environmental outlook, we look at the challenges of saving endangered species one animal at a time.
- Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick A Kenyan author, conservationist,and an expert on raising and reintegrating orphaned elephants into the wild
- Drew Fellman Writer and producer of "Born to Be Wild 3-D"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Dame Daphne Sheldrick is the first person to successfully raise infant elephants. The elephants end up at Tsavo National Park, the protected area her late husband built. A new film, "Born to Be Wild 3-D," documents Dame Daphne's work. It also features the work of renowned primatologist, Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas who raises orphaned orangutans born in Borneo.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us in the studio is Dame Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Drew Fellman, the writer and producer of, "Born to Be Wild 3-D." I want to let you know you can watch a trailer of, "Born to Be Wild," and clips from the film of Dame Daphne and Dr. Birute's animal orphanages at our website at drshow.org. You will also find links on our site to the two organizations and the, "60 Minutes," piece about Dame Daphne's work. Now, you can join us at 800-433-8850, Join us by e-mail, Send us a tweet or on Facebook. Good morning to both of you, it's lovely to have you here.
DR. DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICKGood morning.
MR. DREW FELLMANGood morning.
REHMDrew Fellman, tell me what led you to want to tell the story of these two women?
FELLMANSure, well, for me, the origins kind of go way back. I actually came upon the orangutan project first about 17 years ago as I was just traveling through Southeast Asia. But the thing that was really remarkable to me about it, that made it stand out, is that, you know, there's this enterprise happening in both locations where people and animals are working together as equals, you know, on this great enterprise to rescue these orphans and give them a second chance at life. And it's just something really remarkable to see and we thought it really deserved to be up on the big screen.
REHMHow long did it take you to create the film?
FELLMANWell, I think we started -- we got our green light about a year and a half ago, so from go until screen time, it was about 18 months.
REHMWell, I congratulate you.
FELLMANBut it was, of course, like anything many more years before that.
REHMOf course. Dame Daphne, I have seen you in this film, I have seen your love, your caring for these elephants. Tell me how it all began for you, now 50 years ago?
SHELDRICKWell, I'm born in Kenya, grew up on a highland farm that was full of wild animals in those days. Had my first little orphaned antelope when I was three years old, so it was when I married into the Wildlife Service and went to live in Tsavo National Park with my husband that I had to deal with the bigger orphans, things like buffalo, rhinos and, of course, the elephants. And the elephants were the greatest challenge for me.
SHELDRICKThey're very, very fragile in early infancy and I think our organization is the first ever to successfully raise newborn elephants. We've raised two from the day they were born and over 200 have passed through our hands now. Many have lived, but a lot haven't. They come in very damaged, fragile, psychologically disturbed having lost their elephant mother and elephant family because the family is the most important thing in an elephant's life just as it is to us humans.
REHMYou saw that as well Drew...
REHM...the importance of family?
FELLMANOh, yeah. I mean, the thing that is so incredibly extraordinary is it's really a joint effort, especially with the elephants between people and elephants. The elephants will live until they're two years old at a nursery that the Sheldrick's run just outside Nairobi, but once they're two, they move to sort of a halfway house in Tsavo National Park. It's a stockade out there where they live sort of under human protection because they're still vulnerable to predators, but during the day, they spend out in the bush with -- you know, intermingling with older, wild elephants.
FELLMANAnd those elephants, many of whom have passed through their program but are now living wild, really, you know, adopt them. And it's sort of a handoff where once the elephants are large enough, you know, the other elephants come and they take over from people.
FELLMANAnd there are several years where they work together. It's just extraordinary to see. It's the sort of thing if someone told you about it you, you really wouldn't quite believe it, but once you see it, it really changes, you know, your whole perspective of the natural world.
REHMAnd the idea of caring for these baby elephants happens because the parents have been killed for usually their ivory?
SHELDRICKUnfortunately, yes. The poaching for ivory is increasing in today's world with the demand in the Far East increasing. Human-related tragedies, you know, wells dug in dry river beds for the cattle of pastural people, the elephants fall in, the cattle come. The elephant herd has to leave and abandon the baby. So they're all human-related misfortunes and those that come in older, of course, you know, are very, very fearful of humans because there's no reason why elephants should think kindly about humans, which is a great sadness, I think.
REHMSo what you have to do initially is work to gain their trust?
SHELDRICKThey're terribly fragile, so they come in, in a mess. They're psychologically disturbed and most of them just want to die. They don't even want to try to live, so you've got to turn that around very rapidly with a lot of tender, loving care. You've got to stabilize the stomach and then the healing process begins and the keepers work very intensively with the new elephants that come into the nursery.
SHELDRICKThey sleep with them at night. They're with them 24 hours a day. You have to keep the temperature stable, have to stabilize the stomach because any sort of upset, like diarrhea or something like that, they will dehydrate literally within hours. And an elephant baby can be fine one day and dead the next. They're terribly fragile.
REHMHow much do they weigh when they come to you?
SHELDRICKWell, they come all in different shapes and sizes. Elephants are born big and small just like human babies, but the average weight of a newborn elephant is between 220 and 250 pounds.
REHMAnd how are they found? They don't just wander in.
SHELDRICKNo, no. You know, it's like the ones that are saved, it's a needle in a haystack.
SHELDRICKBut we do a lot of community outreach work amongst the pastural people that share land with wild elephants and that message is getting out so often, they're found by tribesmen who then contact the Wildlife Service and we have to -- we're then contacted by the Wildlife Service. We then have to charter a plane because the babies would never survive a car journey. So the calf has to be taken to the nearest airfield, sometimes in the far corners of the country, you know, and then it's a plane ride back to the nursery and then our work really begins.
REHMDrew, I saw in the film you did one of these babies being loaded onto a plane. My goodness, the amount of energy to lift this little thing, not so little, onto a two-wing plane. Pretty amazing.
FELLMANIt's incredible. I mean, I think there were about 10 guys just trying to lift it, you know, up over their heads to put him in the airplane. It's very, very difficult. The whole rescue operation of that elephant was very dramatic because that elephant had been protected, sort of found, by bull elephants. It had lost its mother and was found by a different group of bulls and they were protecting him, but they couldn't feed him. So even though he was among other elephants, if he wasn't rescued, he would have been dead within a couple of days.
REHMSo he was starving, literally starving, and that's something I want to ask you about, Dame Daphne, because you had to work so long to get just the right formula of milk?
SHELDRICKYes. Of course newborn elephants didn't come in every day, but with every one that came in, we learnt a little more. We found out that they were totally intolerant to the fat in cow's milk. That they had to have a fat-free cow's milk, fat-free base and the nearest thing to the fat in elephant's milk is actually coconut. It took me 28 years to actually get the formula right. But it's not just the milk formula, it's also the husbandry, the care to replace what that elephant would have enjoyed with its own family and that's constant companionship and lots of tender loving care. They're very tactile animals. The keepers are encouraged to touch them, to talk to them, to be with them all night and day for the first two years in the nursery.
REHMTell me about your first encounter, Drew, with a baby elephant.
FELLMANIt was pretty spectacular because for me, the first time was -- I just came to visit Dame Daphne in a real exploratory visit for this film and my only intention was to come and say hello and speak with her for a little bit, just, you know, pay my respects. And, you know, we went, we had a short meeting and probably a cup of tea and she said, would you like to go and walk with the elephants? And I'm like, really?
FELLMANSo then I actually spent the afternoon out with probably this group of 10, you know, baby elephants and their keepers wandering through the bush and it was just -- I felt like I was transported into another world, you know. And it is another world because out in the wild, there's certainly not 10 little baby elephants walking around together. You know, there's a big family and there's big ones and little ones, but this is this very, you know, special little place. It's like a nursery school for elephants and to spend your afternoon, you know, kicking a ball around and just walking in the forest with all these precious little elephants was extraordinary.
FELLMANYou know, one thing that's quite interesting, they enjoy suckling on your fingers the way a child likes to suck his thumb or have a pacifier.
REHMDrew Fellman, he's the writer and producer of, "Born to Be Wild 3-D." It opens nationwide April 8.
REHMAnd here in the studio with me, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. She's a Kenyan author, conservationist, the first person to have perfected the milk formula and necessary husbandry for both infant milk-dependent elephants and rhinos. She's also an expert in the raising and reintegrating of orphaned elephants into the wild. She's done that now for over 30 years. Drew Fellman, he's a writer and producer of a new film opening nationally this Friday, it's titled, "Born to Be Wild 3-D." Here in Washington, it will be at the IMAX Theater and you will see it in all its glory. Dame Daphne, you said during the break that you almost feel that red dirt that the elephants dust in. Why did they cover themselves that way?
SHELDRICKWell, the mud is very important to elephants. It protects the skin, it's good for the skin, protects them from the sun and biting flies. And it's just like taking a mud bath instead of the sort of bath we have. And then after that, dusting with talcum powder in this case it's red earth.
REHMWhy have you reached a point of covering them in coconut oil to protect themselves, especially their ears? What would they do in the wild?
SHELDRICKWell, a newborn elephant is kept underneath its mother surrounded by the family, so it's protected from the sun, the wind and the rain. And that's sun block that is being put on the ears of that baby in the IMAX film. And we also have to use an umbrella if the baby's very, very small. Otherwise, you will see amongst those orphans, some of them have ears that have been disfigured. That's from sunburn.
REHMSo their skin is that fragile.
SHELDRICKVery, very fragile. In early infancy, they kept beneath the mother for the first years of life. And it's very important when they're newborn to protect their ears and the soft skin on their back.
REHMDrew Fellman, you said you went for this walk with Dame Daphne and she introduced you to some of these baby elephants. I'm told that elephants never forget. So how did you introduce yourself to your first baby elephant friend?
FELLMANWell, the introduction is actually the best part of the experience because the elephants will come up to you and offer their trunk. They want you to blow in their trunk.
FELLMANYes. And then...
FELLMANThat's right, like a tuba. And then they, you know, will then understand who you are. Is that -- that's what I've been told. Is that true?
SHELDRICKYes. When elephants greet one another, they put the trunk in each other's mouth. It's a typical elephant greeting. Well, of course, you know, you can't take the trunk into a human mouth, so the best thing is just to blow into it.
REHMAnd they won't forget.
SHELDRICKThey will offer their trunk, yes.
FELLMANSo that was a pretty incredible experience. And then the next time I came, that one particular elephant that I met had already moved on to the next stage of the project and was living in Tsavo and I saw that elephant there. About a group of eight of them were walking by. That one, just as they were passing me, split off from the group and came right over to me and...
FELLMAN...gave me her trunk again.
FELLMANSo whether or not she recognized me or knew me, I have no idea, but it was pretty amazing. And I hadn't met any of the other ones 'cause they were a little bit older.
REHMAnd so they didn't come over.
FELLMANBut I just thought it was interesting...
FELLMAN...an interesting coincidence that the only one that I had met came right over to me. It was pretty interesting.
REHMI was amazed that you have one person for one elephant.
SHELDRICKNo, it's not actually like that. We actually have 54 trained elephant keepers. We don't encourage the elephants to become too fond of any one person.
REHMI see, I see.
SHELDRICKSo they rotate. There'll be a different keeper sleeping with a different elephant every night in the nursery. The keepers will go with them to the rehab stations and they will be taken around all three of our facilities so that all the elephants know all the men...
SHELDRICK...which are the elephant family, their surrogate one. And all the men know all the elephants. So when the keepers meet some of the elephants that are now ex-orphans, the bigger ones that are now living wild, the greeting with their human keepers is very, very touching indeed. They will come and greet them and remember. And one of our early matriarchs recognized a man she hadn't seen for over 35 years.
REHMOh, my goodness. But...
SHELDRICKSo they really don't forget.
REHMRight. And when you say that the elephants sleep with the keeper, you really mean that.
SHELDRICKI really do. In each little stable, there's straw on the floor, there's a mattress for the elephant to lie on and a blanket to put over it when its asleep. The keeper will be with it on the straw...
REHMAll night long.
SHELDRICK...on another mattress right beside it with his hand on the elephant, comforting it, touching it throughout the night. And as the elephant grows and becomes used to his presence, so the keeper can be elevated a little and sleep on a platform just above the elephant, but still in contact with him -- or with the elephant. So the elephant knows that the keeper's there at all times.
REHMAnd hears the breathing and feels that presence.
SHELDRICKThat's in the nursery, but when they go to the rehab stations, then there's a change. All the orphans are in a big stockade together at night without the keepers, but the keepers are very nearby. So that if they're afraid and trumpet or cry in the night 'cause the lions are around, the keepers will come to them. But they will have each other and so that's the beginning of their formation of a sort of herd of orphans. And then the ones that are now living wild come back to greet the ones that are still based in the stockades at night, introduce themselves, love them, welcoming into the family, just as you saw in the IMAX film.
REHMGive me a sense of how long each baby elephant stays with his or her keeper before moving onto that intermediate stage?
SHELDRICKYes. One has to understand that at any age, an elephant duplicates a human of exactly the same age. So they're infants certainly for the first five years of life, where they need supplementary feeding and help and milk for the first three. And then they're juveniles until they reach puberty between 10 and 12. They're not grown until they're 20. And the reintegration of the elephants is in their own time at their own pace and they decide when it's time to actually leave the human family and become elephants again.
REHMHow do you know -- how do you know?
SHELDRICKWe don't. The elephants themselves...
SHELDRICK...decide. And the ones that are now living wild sometimes make that decision. They will come back to the stockade and take one of the bigger ones that's almost ready to join them and take him out -- him or her out for a nights outing in the bush. Now, often that little elephant -- bearing in mind that elephants have very limited vision at night, they're like us, they don't see in the dark too well -- might get very fearful because they're very fearful animals by nature.
SHELDRICKAnd then the matriarch who's now living wild will order two of the young bulls to escort that baby back to the keepers. And it will be taken back into the stockades. And sometimes, the ones that are living wild will want to have a more peaceful night back in the stockades and they come back home. And they'll be with a junior group again, so we call the stockade-based ones the juniors and the ones that are living wild are the seniors.
REHMWow. Have you seen all of this, Drew?
FELLMANAbsolutely. And yeah, we were even told to expect it, but you can't...
FELLMAN...quite believe it...
FELLMAN...until you see it with your own eyes and then it really, really blows you away.
REHMIt hits home.
FELLMANAnd the amazing thing is that when we -- in the film, there's a -- we film the transfer of these three baby elephants out to the halfway house. And even just before they arrived, like an hour or so before they arrived, out of the bush came two groups of each about, you know, 12 or 14 elephants.
REHMReady to receive them.
FELLMANLarge elephants, you know, 10, 12 years old all sort of graduates of the program, the seniors that Dame Daphne's talking about, who are now living wild. And they came to greet the babies even before they arrived. And so the question is, well, how did they even know they're coming? And it's one of those just unanswerable mysteries.
SHELDRICKIt's a mystery. You know, they have amazing perception and this is something that can never be actually proved scientifically. It's impossible to do, but they can predict events in a most mysterious way. And when you raise the elephants and you're with them every day through infancy, through adult -- you're into adulthood and beyond, because they then keep in touch with the ones that are still stockade-based and they like to return and see their keepers from time-to-time, you learn so much about the inside story of elephants. And they're wonderful animals.
REHMDame Daphne Sheldrick and Drew Fellman. He's writer and producer of, "Born to Be Wild 3-D," which open this weekend nationally, here in Washington at the IMAX Theater. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Tricia in San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, you're on the air.
TRICIADuring the 20 years that I lived in Mexico, every August, I'd go to Africa and I always had a driver. And once we were in Kanadaya and we found this elephant suffering with its -- it had been speared and the tusks were cut off. So we went several places to ask rangers to help us to put it out of its misery. And finally, Charles, my driver, said the WWO is the only one that really helps and that's World Wildlife Fund. And when I lived in Washington 20 years, I'm a member and I know that they helped in Africa. We went there and immediately one of the people came with us and put the elephant out of its misery.
REHMOh, what a sad story.
SHELDRICKThat is a sad story. We've rescued many elephants, one of which had a spear 10 foot embedded into her skull, had been chopped with axes on the back. That elephant was very difficult to calm down, very difficult to tame, having had such a terrible experience at the hands of humans. But I'm happy to tell you it's a very happy story. She's now absolutely wonderful. She's in the nursery still, will be going to the rehab station very shortly. She's an elephant called Merker.
REHMAnd how old would you say she is?
SHELDRICKShe's over two years old now. She came to us when she was almost two. We've healed her and stabilized her psychologically. She's now ready to take the next step.
REHMWhy would someone have tried to take her life at such a young age?
SHELDRICKUnfortunately, some of the pastural Mosai people have been grazing illegally in Tsavo National Park. And the intrusion of livestock in the park is one of the things that's threatening the wild elephants. And when the wildlife service tries to eject these cattle that are grazing illegally in the park, some of the tribesmen take revenge on the elephants and the mother was obviously killed, her ivory tusks stolen. The baby was with its mother and because she was nearly two years old, obviously being quite a pain to the executioners and so they did that to her.
REHMDame Daphne Sheldrick and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Columbia, Mo. Good morning, Judy.
JUDYMorning. I'm kinda crying.
JUDYI'm sorry, but I'm just so happy to know that this is the subject from your show today. I love elephants and I really want to thank her for treating them so kindly and doing what she's doing.
SHELDRICKWell, I would like to thank the public, too, for helping us doing what we're doing. Anyone can foster a baby elephant through our website and that's how -- so, you know, it's a joint effort.
REHMGive me that website.
REHMAnd we'll have that on our website so that those who'd like to make a contribution can do so. Judy, you're not the only one who is crying. When I saw that film, I found myself absolutely moved to tears. It's just an extraordinary story. They say that too often, we as humans begin to anthropomorphize animals and yet what you're doing, what you're learning about these elephants would indicate they're as human as we are. Drew.
FELLMANAbsolutely. I mean, there's no reason to anthropomorphize animals in order to acknowledge their emotions and feelings, you know. I mean, they -- you spend any amount of time with these orangutans and elephants and you understand very, very quickly how emotionally sophisticated they are.
REHMTalk about the orangutans.
FELLMANSure. Well, you know, half of this film, you know, features the work of Dr. Galdikas. And, you know, she's been out there for 40 years in Borneo studying wild orangutans and then, you know, raising orphans. What happens out there is a lot of the jungle rain forest, jungle habitat is clear cut for palm oil plantations. And in a way, the orangutans are really collateral damage of that. They don't have the financial value that an elephant has as far as their tusks. They're not a resource. They're -- they're really collateral damage 'cause the forest is cut down and burned. And so their whole habitat is destroyed.
REHMAnd where do they go?
FELLMANWell, often, they're killed and then sometimes, they'll go into the palm plantations that have replaced their home, you know, because they're starving. And then they'll eat the palm fruit and then they'll be killed for doing that. So it's just really a terrible injustice.
REHMAnd what has the individual in the film been able to do with those poor orangutans?
FELLMANSure. Well, it's quite similar to the -- you know, to Dame Daphne's project in a way and that they take them as infants and it's about in whole -- it's like an eight-year process until they're then able to, you know, return to the wild. Because one again, their stages of life also mirror human stages of life. And they're too immature until they're about eight years old to take care of themselves. And also, that's about the year -- the age that an orangutan will normally leave its mother and until then, they're really too small to take care of themselves. They don't have the knowledge, they're still -- can, you know, become prey for clouded leopards or, you know, other predators in the jungle.
REHMHere is an e-mail -- we're getting lots of e-mails from people who have visited the Sheldrick Foundation and would like to thank you, Dame Daphne, for your work. One caller said she just received a birthday gift, which is to foster one of these elephants.
SHELDRICKFantastic. Which one?
SHELDRICKI don't know. They haven't told me, but if I get a name, I shall give it to you. All right. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, more of your phone calls, your e-mails for Drew Fellman, writer and producer of, "Born to Be Wild 3-D," and Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick.
REHMAnd right back to the phones to Jim in Zanesville, Ohio. Good morning to you.
JIMHello. My comment was -- or I wanted to know if your panelists could possibly comment on the hunting of the elephants in Africa. What I've been told is that they don't hold any value to the local population if they're not hunted and the money that comes in from the professional hunters helps to put some value on the elephants and they're protected from poaching and other problems. Could they possible give us some information on alternatives that people with the wherewithal, the money, to spend on something other than killing the elephants to help the elephants (unintelligible).
REHMAll right. All right. Dame Daphne.
SHELDRICKYes. Hunting has been banned in Kenya since 1974. I personally cannot understand how anyone can, with all conscience, get pleasure out of killing and elephant. The elephants are far more valuable to the habitat than they are in terms of meat and trophies. Tourism was Kenya's biggest revenue owner and the elephants are needed for that. They are the key to many wildlife habitats, they create the pathways through the thickets, they seal the waterholes and provide water for all and, you know, they are absolutely crucial to wild environments.
SHELDRICKNow, elephants are human. They're human animals. They have all the emotions of a human. I don't think there's any human that would like their family killed just for the value of its meat or anything. And I don't think elephants should be killed, either. I think they should be protected. Now, I do understand that humans have intruded onto elephant habitats and cut migration routes that elephants have used for throughout millennia and now the elephants are problem animals and some of them have to be shot, of course, when they're destroying crops because an elephant can destroy a man's crops overnight.
SHELDRICKBut there are alternatives. People that live in these places can electrically fence themselves in, there're elephant corridors are being created through wildlife habitat 'cause elephants need space just like us. They need to visit their friends and family that are living in far off places and so there are alternatives being investigated in Kenya to try and save the elephants, which are a very, very valuable resource for the country and for nature as a whole.
SHELDRICKI don't believe that humans can live in isolation. We need the natural world.
REHMThanks for calling, Jim. Here's a question for you, Drew, form Maurine who says, "My seven-year-old daughter loves elephants. Will this film be appropriate for her? Also, are there volunteer opportunities available for children and family?" First the film.
FELLMANSure. I mean, this film is absolutely appropriate. It's really a film for kids and, you know, there are a lot of films out there in the world about wildlife and the dangers that wildlife face that are grim, you know, where you shed tears, but they're tears of sorrow, you know. For us, we wanted to make a film that, you know, explored the joys of being a young orangutan, the joys of being a young elephant and to, you know, help everybody see how miraculous these animals are by, you know, loving them as opposed to, you know, pitying them. So I think, you know, kids are really responding well to this movie and definitely take all small children (laugh).
REHMExactly. And what about volunteer opportunities?
SHELDRICKWe would absolutely to have as many volunteers as possible, but actually, it's not possible. First of all, the keepers that are with the elephants have to have a long-term commitment. They've got to be with those animals for 10 years.
SHELDRICKDay and night for two years in the nursery and beyond that. And also, there's a lot of unemployment and poverty in Kenya and the government does not encourage foreigners to take a position that could be filled by a local Kenyan that would at least keep him or her off the streets. So we -- the only voluntary help we can accept is occasionally to help at our little shop table during the mud bath hour, just for one hour a day, but they're not allowed to actually work with the elephants.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Alfredo, you're on the air.
ALFREDOYes, hi. I had a question that was similar to Maureen's. I have a three-year-old daughter and I also wanted to take her to see the film. She hasn't -- she's three and a half and she hasn't really seen -- been to the movies at all and I didn't want to take her to the animated films that are out now, "Hop," or -- which is animation and live action and, "Orango," which is also about animals and...
REHMYeah. And the question is, again, for a three and a half year old, even in 3-d, do you feel this appropriate?
FELLMANWell, I would say as far as the subject matter is concerned, I feel it's very appropriate. Unfortunately, because it's in 3-d and it requires wearing those glasses and keeping your head straight, I think three's a bit young. I think four or five is a much, you know, better age, but that said, there are many IMAX theaters where the film will be playing in 2-d. I don't know exactly off the top of my head which ones those are.
REHMSo if you were to watch this movie at 3-d, you'd have to wear the glasses or else it would be (word?).
FELLMANRight. And that's very hard for a three-year-old.
REHMYeah, I would agree. Okay. So let's say four and a half to five and above.
FELLMANI think that's the right age.
REHMAll right. To Wilmington, N.C. Good morning, John.
JOHNGood morning. I'm in a rainstorm, so I apologize for the background noise, but thank you, Diane. It's an interesting conversation today...
JOHNAnd Drew, I'm looking forward to seeing your film.
JOHNAnd Dame Daphne, I want to thank you for your dedication, for your life work and I have a quick question, but I'll follow it with a quick little story. I remember a documentary in Los Angeles of a keeper in a zoo who was retired and joined -- went back to the zoo to be reunited with an elephant there. And after 30 years of absence, the elephant came over, put the trunk around his friend the keeper and they both were (laugh) -- both were crying after his absence.
JOHNSo my question is, is what is your emotional connection with the elephants and vice versa? Because that's really the element, I think, the connection with these special animals. How do you feel or how hard is it to let an elephant go?
SHELDRICKWhen you're raising the elephants, it's a very emotional rollercoaster. You have to take the rough with the smooth and they're many times that you might feel like throwing in the towel and, oh, I can't go on doing this, but then you...
REHMGive me an example.
SHELDRICKWell, when a baby elephant that you've worked so hard on just suddenly dies. But you have to turn the corner and know that they're lots of others that need your help and get on with the job.
REHMIs it because some come to you with such depravation to begin with that you simply cannot bring them to a state of health?
SHELDRICKYes. You know, they come to us in a real mess, most of them. Almost close to death. And they're also all different individuals. You know, some have a much more will to want to live, particularly the bulls. The little girls are very, very emotionally distraught, having lost their elephant family. So those are more difficult to actually turn around.
REHMHere's a website comment from Kate. She says, "I have followed Dame Daphne since I first saw her "60 Minutes" years ago and vowed if I ever got to Kenya, I would go see her. I made the pilgrimage in 2004 and again in 2006 and was so moved to see her elephant orphanage. It was life changing for me. I gave my niece and nephew a present of adopting one of the elephants I saw. This changed their life as they got weekly e-mails from the Sheldrick Foundation and cared about their elephant." Do you keep that up?
SHELDRICKYes, we do. Every foster parent receives the keeper's diary every month. The diary comes to me in broken English and Swahili from the keepers who document on a daily basis exactly what the orphans are doing and who comes back to visit and who's friends of who and so on. And that goes into the website every month at month end, along with updated pictures of the orphans and a special thing for the foster parents, a picture done by my very talented daughter.
REHMHow wonderful. To Pinehurst, N.C. Good morning, Linda.
LINDAOh, good morning. Thank you.
LINDAAnd thank you both so much for this. And Drew, thank you for making a movie that's going to be appropriate for my kindergartner.
LINDAI know he'll love it. But Dame Daphne, I just wanted to know, is there any particular reason that mother elephants couldn't foster the infant elephants, that they wouldn't take over their care?
SHELDRICKThere is -- an infant elephant needs milk for three years and a mother elephant, you know, if she's lactating will probably have her own baby. Now, she certainly wouldn't want to jeopardize the survival of her own calf to be able to feed two.
REHMOh, I see.
SHELDRICKAnd she will not have enough milk to feed two, but sometimes it does happen. For instance, with our orphan called Eddo from Abisally (sp?) National Reserve. He was actually -- he could suckle his grandmother when she had a calf. But the daughter, who also had a calf, when the grandmother died, the daughter would not let Eddo suckle her and then he became an orphan. Eddo today is a bull and almost 20 years old, living wild and so he has a happy end to his story. But it must break the elephant's heart not to be able to take over the babies that are orphaned.
REHMGosh. What a story. Thanks for your call. Let's go to Baltimore, Md. and to Kat. Good morning.
KATGood morning. Earlier, when you were talking about the elephants coming to the compound or whatever before the babies arrived, it reminded me of a researcher, "The Secret Language of Elephants," about them actually being able to hear the sounds over miles and I was wondering if maybe that was the reason that they were able to show up before the babies got there. And also was wondering if you've seen any evidence of some kind of communication that we simply cannot hear 'cause it's on such a low frequency.
SHELDRICKWe see the communication of infrasound beyond our hearing range every single day in the rehabilitation stations where the ex-orphans will be at a certain point way out in the bush, the keepers have no idea where they are and suddenly, the little orphans that are keeper dependent will head out into the bush followed by the keepers, the keepers then follow the infants and they will meet up at a point deep in the bush and this is the infrasound communication.
SHELDRICKBut I also believe that elephants communicate telepathically, too. We've had evidence of that as well.
SHELDRICKWhen we're moving the babies from the nursery to the halfway house, on one occasion, we weren't able to inform the keepers at the halfway house that the elephants were coming on that particular day, there'd been a change in plans. And you can't get signal easily at the halfway house. And so the elephants were on their way, the keepers at the halfway house had no idea they were on their way until they were almost there.
SHELDRICKNow, none of those big elephants, who are now ex-orphans, knew the little ones that were coming, they hadn't shared nursery time with them, but yet they knew that some elephants would be arriving that day and they were in the compound waiting for them. And the keepers couldn't understand why suddenly, the ex-orphans returned and the little ones wouldn't leave the compound until suddenly, they get a signal from the lorry carrying these baby elephants to the compound that we're about to arrive in an hour's time.
REHMAh. Extraordinary story. Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Dan in Eliot, Maine. Good morning, Dan.
DANHi, Diane. And thank you so much for this great show.
DANSome years ago, I read an article in the New York Times magazine that moved me quite deeply about marauding elephants in Africa, young bulls, I think. And the rational, the explanation was that their mothers had been murdered by poachers and that they were left without the family structure that was so important to their growth. And I -- and there was a comparison, I think, made to young men who -- without family structures and as an explanation as why they were so troublesome in their communities. And that story always stuck with me and I'm wondering if there is ways to address some of the problems associated with these grown up or say adolescent elephants that have been set adrift from their families because of poaching.
SHELDRICKI know the -- what you're talking about. Those elephants were orphaned during a (word?) in South Africa, not murdered by poachers, but murdered by people that are supposed to be protecting them and they saw their family butchered in front of their eyes, all immobilized and shot and cut up in front of their eyes. They were taken as orphans to be sold in circuses and zoos and I actually fought for those orphans. We were five weeks fighting a court case down in Pretoria to save those elephants and a lot of them were sent to a little private sanctuary that had enough space for a few elephants, but they behaved very badly.
SHELDRICKThey were psychologically disturbed, distraught, Post traumatic stress and all that set in 'cause they're very human emotionally and that it wasn't until they brought some adult elephants in to give them guidance and comfort them and heal them and teach them how to behave. 'Cause in an animal that lives 70 years, there's also a lot of learning that has to happen and that's passed on from the adults, just as our own children need adult supervision in their growing years.
REHMI have two final comments for you, one from our website from Jan, who says, "My son spent his fourth birthday watching your staff feed the baby elephants. This so impressed him that he gave his own money to foster Kenzie. He continues to give willingly his own money to your foundation and enjoys the monthly updates you send out." And finally, a Facebook comment from Avery, "This is an incredible and inspiring story. Always wonderful to know there are people out there who are doing things like this. Thank you so much, Dame Daphne, for your work."
SHELDRICKThank all of you for your support.
REHMAnd also to Drew Fellman for your film which opens this Friday. Thanks for listening, all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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