How did an African elephant charity end up in Leatherhead?

Ndotto was taken by helicopter to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust nursery

Ndotto was taken by helicopter to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust nursery

First published in News This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

A tiny elephant, just a day old, lost his family in a stampede and was rescued by helicopter from remote Kenyan mountain range earlier this month.

The baby, called Ndotto, was left behind when his herd became mixed up with cows and fled in panic. He started following the cattle herders who cared for him and found help.

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Ndotto is now at a charity's nursery in Nairobi, while thousands of miles away charity workers based in Leatherhead have shared his story with the world through the media.

Their small office, filled with pictures and models of elephants in Bridge Street, is the unlikely home of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) which fights to save elephants.

Director Rob Brandford, a Tadworth resident and former St John's student, set up the UK charity after coming across DSWT in Kenya.

With a laugh, he said: "I’m not far away from where I started."

A decade ago Mr Brandford was doing corporate fundraising for another charity, went to rescue pygmy chimpanzees in the Congo and visited the elephant nursery on his way back.

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UK Director Rob Brandford at the office in Leatherhead

He said: "I was just smitten by everything about these countries in terms of space and people and wildlife. I packed in everything, quit my job and sold my flat in Leatherhead."

Mr Brandford went to live on the Kenyan coast where he was contacted by DSWT who were thinking of setting up a charity in the UK.

He said: "Before I knew it, I was touring their projects and being asked if I would come back to set it up. It was something I could just not turn my back on."

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The office in Leatherhead

His first office was a second bedroom in Hatfield Road, Ashtead, which he shared with his rescue dog, who has a fixation with elephants, for years.

After a few relocations, the charity moved to Bridge Street where one part-time and three full-time staff members raise money and awareness for the charity.

Mr Brandford said: "Everything it does everywhere in the world outside of Kenya comes from this office."

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Over the last ten years, DSWT's anti-poaching operations, rescue missions and elephant conservation efforts have grown enormously in Kenya.

Ndotto is among the calves being fed three times a day at its nursery - the milk formula and accompanying specialist care were perfected by the charity’s founder Dame Daphne Sheldrick, 80.

Mr Brandford said: "It’s the skills of the keepers in acting like surrogate mothers using a gentle touch over time to help orphans overcome the emotional trauma."

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Later on, the keepers step back into order to prepare the elephants for the wild.

He said: "It’s the elephants that lead the keepers when they get older, and eventually the elephants go ‘it’s much more fun with elephants’ and they go wild’."

Years later, he said: "They might come back and show off their babies. That’s the ultimate success. It shows they have been accepted by the elephant community, and had a calf and the life they should have had all along."

Sometimes former orphans even bring back wild elephants in order to get treatment for wounds such as injuries caused by snares.

Dame Sheldrick set up the charity in Kenya in 1977 after the death of her husband David who was a renowned national park warden.

  • Cost of fostering an orphan - suggested donation of £30 a year, or £3 or more a month.
  • Annual cost to care for one baby elephant - £6,150
  • Annual cost to operate an anti-poaching team for each unit - £20,500

To donate visit www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org or call the Leatherhead office on 01372 378 321

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