Book Review: Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story

Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story | Dame Daphne Sheldrick | 322 pgs. | rating: 4.5/5

Love Life and Elephants

Set before “Dame Daphne’s” described African backdrop, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story is a breathtaking portrayal of a fulfilled life not without its challenges. The reader learns of her wild upbringing, her adolescence and of love found and intermittently lost throughout adulthood. Sheldrick’s descriptions of Africa’s vast, yet unforgiving beauty – and her interactions with elephants, lend themselves perfectly to a longing for her life. Yet, I can only imagine the world she’s navigated and the courage and strength it’s taken.

Visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website

The thought of surviving an untamed landscape filled with violence from natural and manmade (poaching, settler raids, political corruption) worlds is daunting. Add to that thoughts of growing and succeeding in a world without the amenities we often take for granted. It’s a great deal to imagine, and I dare say, one I’m almost happy to not have had to endure. Ironically, it’s also an experience I envy – and one I wish I could have had. The thoughts of seeing elephants in the wild – or being directly involved with their conservation is a dream of mine.

Love.Life.ElephantsWhat I loved (and admired) most about Sheldrick’s memoir is that, despite coming from a situation of privilege, she and her husband David nurtured relationships (in both worlds) and worked hard to ensure a path through life – and either through family or the gracious support of others, the Sheldricks always found a way.

Meet Rorogoi, the elephant I’ve fostered through DSWT

As told by Dame Daphne, David made significant contributions to Africa and her wildlife. His career as a naturalist was essential to the establishment of wildlife refuges, the development of Tsvao (in Kenya), the publication of research and ultimately what’s become the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Beside him, Dame Daphne made significant contributions of her own (ex. how to hand-rear a milk dependent elephant calf) and has spent her life tirelessly engaged in a battle for survival. Following David’s death, her commitment  to his legacy, to elephants and to Africa is what makes this a remarkable story of love.

The day came when Shmetty [an elephant orphan] was too weak even to get to her feet. Sitting with her head in my lap, the tears rolled down my cheeks as I wondered just how I was going to keep her alive. (p. 231)

Her story is immeasurably beautiful, shocking, heartbreaking and fulfilling. A story that lends itself to dramatic interpretations and vivid imagery. I hope someone options Dame Daphne’s memoir to create a beautiful and magical piece of cinema. Love, Life and Elephants will inspire you – infuriate you – and move you. I simply wish I had more time to discover and learn about [in detail] the other orphans and the next generation to inherit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

It is my desire to become more active with DSWT – and in other efforts to protect elephants on a global scale. Ironically, the inspiration I’ve drawn from her story is tempered by my longing to have a similarly great adventure and romance – complete with elephants. Bravo Dame Daphne, bravo!

Buy Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story

I awoke in the morning to sunshine streaming in through the window, to find a red rose plucked from the garden placed beside my head on the pillow. No bride could have had a more romantic introduction to marriage. (p. 125)

Being underneath an elephant is an awesome experience – dwarfed by an enormous body overhead, crouching between giant legs, I was very aware of tusks each as thick and as long as an arm, and the cool tip of an investigative trunk monitoring what was going on. From this position I was conscious of the elephant’s latent power, knowing that the trunk alone was capable of crushing the life from my body. (p. 197)

Note: In the epilogue, Sheldrick mentions having over 1,000 pages in her manuscript – and that her editor helped to condense the story into a “manageable” read. Sadly, I’d have loved to read the full story. There were so many parts I desired more from – and I wonder if it’s at all possible to “manageably” tell a life story.

Associated Media:

  • The Wilderness Guide (text) – features David Sheldrick’s field notes
  • Out of Africa (1985) – filmed with assistance from DSWT
  • The Elephant Diaries (2005) – produced by the BBC
  • Born to Be Wild (2011) – IMAX documentary
  • Gardeners of Eden (2014) – documentary feature focused on DSWT

VIEW the preview for Gardeners of Eden, premiering on PIVOT, May 6, 2015 at 9/8c.