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Raising the elephants is a roller coaster. There is a lot of sorrow, a lot of joy. They learn how to turn the page, and I think they help us turn the page, too. -Dr. Dame Daphne M. Sheldrick, DBE

Although Kenya, unlike Borneo, has some infrastructure to support film production, capturing the elephant sequences in "Born to be Wild 3D” still proved daunting. The shoot began with a two-week stint filming at Dame Daphne's orphanage for baby elephants, located on the edge of Nairobi National Park.

Nairobi Elephant Nursery

Since its inception, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (TDSWT) has hand-reared more than 130 orphaned elephants. Dame Daphne has trained over 50 keepers to rescue and rehabilitate the elephants, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild population of Tsavo's National Park.

Filming at the elephant nursery focused not only on the elephants but on their male keepers who, like the orangutan caregivers, serve as their surrogate family. From the moment they arrive, the orphans are very fragile, both physically and emotionally.

Dame Daphne explains, "When a new elephant comes to the nursery, they are terrified and more often than not emaciated. They've not only lost their mothers but their entire family. We've also had to capture them and transport them on a plane so they're completely traumatized. Once they get to the nursery, the most urgent task is to check their state of health and, to do that, we must first calm them down and begin to instill a sense of trust. Most of all, they have to want to survive.”

Perhaps most crucial to that survival is nourishment. They need milk. After years of trial and error, Dame Daphne developed a mixture to act as a replacement for an elephant mother's milk. She details, "At first we couldn't get the formula right as elephants cannot process cow milk, so we got samples of elephant milk analyzed and discovered it was very high in fat. But it couldn't be just any sort of fat. We kept trying different variations until we found a type of human baby formula that seemed to be working and continued adding other ingredients, like coconut milk, and finally got it right. We also found that some orphans like to drink their milk from under a blanket. The rough fabric reminds them of their mother's body, it feels natural to have somewhere to rest their trunks while they suckle, so that helps to soothe them.”

Unlike orangutans, elephants are also extremely social, so having other elephants nearby helps to quiet the new orphans, like Sities, who is featured in the film.

In this respect, the caregivers are also an integral part of the equation. The head keeper, Edwin Lusichi, "wanted to be a priest until he came to Tsavo,” Fellman reveals. "He fell in love with this place and the animals and never left.” That seems to be a common thread among the staff, which comes from different tribes and different backgrounds but have found a common purpose working together to save elephants. Edwin, along with Mishak Nzimbi and Amos Lekalau were among the 15 keepers the crew worked with on a daily basis.

The keepers not only spend their days with their charges; they tuck the elephants in at night and sleep beside them in their stalls. Lickley affirms, "When you watch the keepers with the elephants, you instantly see the intense emotional impact they have on each another.” Because the elephants and their human caregivers must eventually part ways, the keepers are rotated among TDSWT's three orphan facilities so the elephants don't become too attached to any one man, as this would create problems should he ever be absent. A big part of the elephants' recovery regimen includes enrichment activities like wrestling and mud baths.

Lickley says, "They love to playfully bump up against you and they like games, too. We were able to film this crazy soccer game, with three balls bouncing around, elephants trumpeting, people hooting and hollering, and dust flying up. There are obviously no rules, but everyone was having a great time.”

The area surrounding the nursery is home to many wild animals, including rhinos, lions, impala, giraffe and warthogs. The crew had quite a few scares while filming there. One day several crew members were trapped inside the camera truck as a large rhino sharpened his horn on the loading ramp.

Tsavo National Park

The crew set up camp in May in Tsavo National Park, one of the oldest and largest in Kenya at just over 8,000 square miles. Opened in April 1948, the park is named for the Tsavo River, which flows through it, and is divided into east and west sections by a road and a railway. Most of the area consists of semi-arid grasslands and savannah. The slightly larger Tsavo East is generally flat, with dry plains across which the Galana River flows. The Yatta Plateau and Lugards Falls are among the other topical features.

Dame Daphne's late husband, David Sheldrick, a world renowned conservationist, was the Founder Warden of Tsavo East in 1948 and built the park from virgin bush. Dame Daphne and David lived there together for over 20 years, from 1955 to 1976. She relates, "Tsavo is a magical place. When David first went there, there wasn't even a road; there wasn't anything. It was a challenging environment, but I grew to love it. It's where I raised my own children and where the first orphaned animals came into my life.”

After her husband's death, in 1977, Dame Daphne established The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (TDSWT), and, with the government's permission, carries on the work of rescuing and caring for elephants.


The filmmakers were thrilled to capture the most profound moment in the rehabilitation process of orphaned elephants – their graduation from the nursery and transfer to Tsavo National Park. The film followed the journey of three two-year-old elephants, Sabachi, Kilaguni, and Chaimu, as they said goodbye to their friends at the nursery and boarded the lorries that would take them to their new home in a part of Tsavo known as Ithumba.

Essentially a halfway house, the elephants live here under human supervision until they no longer require milk and are mature enough to join the wild herds. Still too small to ward off large predators, they must sleep in a stockade, but during the day, they roam the national park from sunrise to dusk. Because elephants live in familial groups, the maturing process includes learning how to be part of the herd. This is where the humans let go and the elephants take over. And that is when the real magic happens. Much of what an elephant needs to know they could never learn from a human. Fortunately, the ex-orphans (a term Dame Daphne uses to refer to the elephants that have transitioned fully to the wild) have formed several herds in Tsavo and take it upon themselves to visit the young orphans and teach them the ways of elephant life.

"We might not see the ex-orphans for months at a time but when new orphans arrive they all gather even before the trucks arrive,” Dame Daphne says. "They somehow know that something big is about to transpire.”

"About 30 or 40 of these ex-orphan elephants, who are now independent and wild-living, came and greeted the newbies,” Fellman observes. "What is fascinating is that 20-year-old elephants were mentoring a two-year-old elephant. Two decades ago, Daphne had raised those elephants, and somewhere out there is a 50-year-old elephant she raised that took part in raising those 20-year-old elephants. It was amazing to be around that continuum.”

The crew spent several days filming at a waterhole next to a mound of loose red earth, th

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