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In 1974, a baby elephant was rescued from a disused well in Northern Kenya by Samburu tribesmen. They sent her 500 miles by truck to someone who had a reputation for saving orphaned wild animals – Daphne Sheldrick.
Daphne looked after a menagerie of waifs and strays in her back garden but neither Daphne nor anyone else had ever hand reared an elephant as young as this. She was barely a week old and totally milk dependent at a time when there was no known substitute for elephant’s milk.
With only cow’s milk to survive on, it was a daily struggle just to keep the baby alive. After a few weeks, Aisha - as she was named - teetered on the brink of death. Having failed in every attempt to find the right formula, Daphne tried a coconut oil base as a last resort. Amazingly, it worked and Aisha began to recover and thrive. Before long she was romping around the garden with the rest of the orphaned animals.
Aisha began to look to Daphne as her surrogate mother and, in return, Daphne grew to love Aisha like her child. As the bond between them grew, Daphne didn’t notice Aisha’s affection turn into an obsession.
That obsession became a full blown crisis when Daphne had to leave Aisha for 10 days to attend her daughters wedding. Aisha pined to such an extent that she stopped feeding. When Daphne returned, she was severely malnourished and died in Daphne’s arms on Christmas day 1974.
Heartbroken, Daphne devoted her life to saving infant elephant orphans using the lessons learnt from mistakes made with Aisha. To date, Daphne and her orphanage have rescued over 150 infants and returned them to the wild, so ultimately Aisha didn’t die in vain.
This programme is part of a 4 part-series called "My Wild Affair", which tells extraordinary stories of the bonds between humans and their animal companions, including a rhino who joined a family, an orangutan raised as a human child, and a harbor seal that entered the human world but remained wild at heart.
- Episode Title : The Elephant Who Loved Too Much
- Format : 1 x 60'
- Production company : Blink Films and Newroad Media
- Year of production : 2013
- Commissioning channels : PBS, Animal Planet Canada, Discovery, SBS Australia