There aren’t many autobiographies which hold the power to lock horns with my attention and hold it captive for days on end until the last page is turned. But this one did. Perhaps this is because I tend to be more interested in reading about wildlife and nature than people, and perhaps this is because Love, Life and Elephants contains a series of deeply gripping emotional tales of the personal lives of rescued and orphaned wild animals in Kenya’s famous Tsavo-East National Park.
Sheldrick is best known for her work caring for orphaned elephants. She helped pioneer husbandry methods to nurse motherless milk-dependent elephant calves to survival. Prior to her work these newly born mammals faced a near certain death once their mothers were lost. But Sheldrick’s memoir is about much more than this singular achievement. It’s a history of her British family homesteading in Kenya at a point in time when the Crown was encouraging colonization there; and their subsequent feeling of abandonment and cultural isolation when the British government ultimately pulled out of Kenya.
Her family felt torn between two countries: culturally they were English, but they had poured years of time and energy into carving productive farms and ranchland from the Kenyan soil. Sheldrick wrote: “Labelled the White Tribe of Africa, we were rapidly losing our stake in the country we viewed as home and could never be truly British again, due to long isolation in Africa. Nor could we be truly African either, because of our colour and culture.” Though Sheldrick viewed herself as an Englishwoman living in Kenya, she knew she could never return to Great Britain; and in this way she felt keenly the isolation and abandonment that her many wild orphans experienced, the singular sense of being on your own. Maybe it was this shared sentiment that led her to become a deeply nurturing and loving surrogate mother to so many motherless wild animals. Continue reading