Saying goodbye to the queen of the elephants

60 Minutes remembers Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who started Africa's first elephant orphanage

Dame Daphne Sheldrick, pioneer of elephant conservation and founder of a Kenyan orphanage that has rescued and raised more than 200 elephants, died last Thursday at age 83. In a statement, her daughter Angela Sheldrick said the cause was breast cancer.

Dame Sheldrick created the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 1977 and named it for her husband, who had died earlier that year. David Sheldrick was the founding warden of Tsavo, Kenya's largest national park. 60 Minutes first visited the orphanage, known as the DSWT, with correspondent Bob Simon in 2006. Simon returned to the orphanage in 2008 and reported the piece that's in the video player above.

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Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 2008.

"Can you imagine an orphanage that's a happy place? We couldn't. But then we found one," Simon said of the DSWT. He showed viewers around the orphanage, which is a temporary home for rehabilitating elephants who were abandoned because their mothers have died, or more likely, been killed in the bush.  

"It's a wonderful place in Kenya," Simon told 60 Minutes Overtime in a 2011 interview. "One talks about an elephant's memory. When we went back two years later, a few of the elephants recognized us, and came running up to us when we arrived there."

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Bob Simon at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in 2008.

Born in Kenya, Dame Sheldrick had been working with elephants for more than 50 years when Simon and a 60 Minutes crew visited her. At the time, there was a record number of orphans at the DSWT because the sale of ivory had been legalized for the first time in a decade. Dame Sheldrick told Simon that the sale of ivory directly led to elephants being killed.

"Every time ivory is auctioned legally, there's a rise in poaching," Dame Sheldrick said. "And we also see the correlation in the price that's paid to the poacher for illegal ivory."

After Simon's second story aired, a near-total ban on commercial trade in African elephant ivory went into effect in the United States in July 2016. However, last month the Trump administration lifted an Obama-era ban on importing legally hunted elephant remains—known as trophies—from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

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Elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust today.

While speaking to Dame Sheldrick in 2008, Simon asked her to name the most extraordinary thing she'd learned about elephants.

"Their tremendous capacity for caring is, I think, perhaps the most amazing thing about them, even at a very, very young age," she replied. "Their sort of forgiveness, unselfishness. You know, I often say, as I think I've said before, they have all the best attributes of us humans and not very many of the bad."

Simon's own experience at the DSWT seemed to have left a lasting impression on him.

"I don't know anyone who's spent any time with elephants who doesn't develop a thing for elephants," he said in 2011. "Our babies can be quite cute. [But] when you see a baby elephant, it just breaks your heart."

Dame Sheldrick's daughter Angela now runs the DSWT, which has grown since the last 60 Minutes report to incorporate other animal orphans, including a blind rhino named Maxwell. The organization is funded in part by a foster program that lets donors support individual animals.