The threat of ivory poaching remains a constant reality for adult elephants, alongside growing issues for the species driven by loss of habitat due to deforestation and development, drought, and other human-driven dangers. As adult elephants die, their babies are left without leadership and care.
Researchers have determined elephants to have numerous human-like traits, including possessing complex emotions, requiring companionship, and feeling grief. Baby elephants stick close to their mothers for the first several years of their life, depending on them for both physical needs, such as milk and protection, and emotional care.
Yet when habitats are destroyed and mothers are killed, the babies are left helpless unless an outside force steps in. In Kenya, that outside force is the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Orphan’s Project and the Cessna Caravan turboprop.
The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Africa’s wildlife and habitats, especially endangered species like the elephant and black rhino. Since its founding in 1977, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised over 260 infant elephants through its main conservation activity, the Orphan’s Project.
"The mission of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is to carry on the pioneering work of Dame Daphne Sheldrick," said Angela Sheldrick, daughter of Daphne Sheldrick, who is now at the helm of the organization. "She began raising a few infant elephant orphans and slowly reintroducing them back into the wild, a process that can take upwards of a decade. Over the years, as threats like poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict took their toll on the species, we have taken in more and more rescues. Equally important is securing the habitats they will one day call home through a robust field presence. The SWT has grown into a multifaceted organization that is solving the greatest conservation challenges of today."
The rescue of these orphans is quite the endeavor. Many of them are dehydrated or injured, making every hour count. They may require emergency medical treatment and quick transportation from extremely remote locations, which can only be accomplished via aircraft.
The organization said the Caravan turboprop is the most efficient and effective way to transport the elephants. With its wide loading doors and spacious cabin, it is the ideal aircraft to transport these orphaned infant elephants and all the medical equipment needed to have the best chance at survival.
Oftentimes, injured animals are in inaccessible locations. Taking flight in a Cessna Caravan aircraft, they are able to quickly respond to the emergency cases and treat them promptly before infection sets in and the animals are lost forever.
It’s safe to say it takes a very organized and passionate team to do the meaningful work Sheldrick Wildlife Trust embarks upon each day.
“The Cessna Caravan helps us facilitate these rescue missions and plays a big part in our initiatives,” Sheldrick said.