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Elephant population dwindles as demand for ivory grows; how to foster a baby elephant

A poaching resurgence has pushed up the price of ivory, resulting in more elephant carnage. But some of the baby elephants orphaned in the wake of such violence will survive -- thanks to the dedication of naturalist Daphne Sheldrick. NBC's Chelsea Clinton reports.

On Wednesday "Nightly News" aired a report from special correspondent Chelsea Clinton featuring naturalist Daphne Sheldrick (above), who has been working for decades to preserve Kenya's wildlife. The final piece in Clinton's two-part series (below) aired Thursday, and it explains how baby elephants orphaned by poachers are being rescued and raised.

Conservationist Daphne Sheldrick set up the world's only elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya 30 years ago. It's a labor of love with Sheldrick, along with the elephant keepers, watching over the big babies around the clock. NBC's Chelsea Clinton reports.

Below, find out how to help Sheldrick's charity, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and why ivory remains such a precious commodity. 

Daphne Sheldrick writes:

With the illegal ivory priced as it is today, driven by the demand in the Far East (particularly China), saving the African elephant is now the responsibility of the international community through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is beyond the capability of the elephant range states to control the poaching driven by this demand. 

The sale of all ivory, be it legal or illegal, must be banned totally with those countries that destroy their ivory stockpiles compensated, and those that don't, punished. 

Daphne Sheldrick, who runs the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and NBC News special correspondent Chelsea Clinton discuss the care taken to make orphaned elephants comfortable and trusting enough to take a bottle of nutrition.

The elephant is an iconic species sharing with us humans many of the same emotions -- the same sense of family and the same sense of death. To kill such an animal for a trinket made from its tooth is an abomination that should be punished severely, particularly in this, the 21st century, when humankind should have at least understood that all species benefit the Earth as a whole and that the Earth does not exist solely for us humans, but is home to many other species who have evolved along with it, and are necessary to its well-being. 

People must persuade political representatives who will be making such decisions at CITES to vote to save the elephants rather than being influenced by trade.

Daphne Sheldrick has worked tirelessly to hand-rear more than 130 orphaned elephants at the Nairobi National Park, eventually helping them integrate back into the wild. She has also raised more than a dozen black rhinos.

From the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:

Established 35 years ago by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in memory of her late husband David Sheldrick, the founder warden of Kenya’s giant Tsavo National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) is dedicated to the protection and conservation of wildlife and habitats in Kenya.  The charity is best known for its pioneering work with orphaned elephants. Daphne Sheldrick has been living alongside elephants for 50 years and she was the first person to successfully hand-rear a milk-dependent newborn elephant. 

NBC Special Correspondent Chelsea Clinton spoke with  head elephant keeper Edwin Lusichi and Daphne Sheldrick of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust about the care given to traumatized elephant orphans.     

Today the charity has successfully returned 91 elephant orphans to the wild, with another 53 currently reliant on their care. There are 22 baby elephants ages 2 years and under at the DSWT Nursery in Nairobi and another 31 adolescents, graduates of the Nursery, at their two reintegration centres in Tsavo East National Park.

Increasingly the animals the DSWT is called to rescue are ivory orphans; their mothers murdered before their eyes for their tusks; while climate change, drought, a burgeoning human population and livestock place further pressure on land and elephant populations. Already in 2012, the DSWT has been called to 17 baby elephant rescues.

Daphne Sheldrick, who runs the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, tells NBC Special Correspondent Chelsea Clinton about what makes baby elephants so unique.

Elephants are under threat. These intelligent, gentle and social animals known as Africa’s Gardeners -- for the role they play in clearing new paths in the bush and dispersing seeds -- are being killed for their ivory at the worst levels since the 1980s. 2011 was the worst year for ivory seizures since the international ivory ban went into effect in 1989. During 2011, authorities seized more than 23 tons of ivory, which represented about 2,500 individual elephants killed. Given that customs search approximately 5 percent of shipments, it is accepted that significantly more ivory will have been successfully smuggled out of Africa. 

Today there are around 450,000 elephants in Africa, down from 1.3 million in 1979. It is estimated by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)  that up to 38,000 elephants are killed annually for their tusks. Left unchecked this could see the population of African Elephants wiped out in under 20 years.

Demand for ivory is rising, fueled by an increasingly affluent middle class in China and the Far East where ivory is seen as a symbol of wealth, status and power. Through the elephant orphans project, mobile veterinary units, eight mobile anti-poaching teams, and aerial surveillance and community outreach; the DSWT is working on the front lines, in the field, to protect elephants, treat and rescue victims of the ivory trade and educate local people as to the importance of protecting their wildlife heritage. 

You can learn more about the Trust’s lifesaving conservation projects at http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

Foster an elephant

 The elephants rescued by the DSWT are reliant upon them for up to 10 years, before they choose to return to the wild. Each elephant requires a stockade, the care of specialist keepers who stay with the orphans 24 hours a day, milk formula every three hours and additional nutrients and medicines where necessary.  You can foster a baby elephant and become part of the elephant’s extended human family, with your donation of $50 a year, contributing much-needed funds to the DSWT Orphans Project. Foster parents receive a personalized certificate, monthly email update of their elephant, photographs and more.  Visit: http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/foster

Make a tax-deductible donation

 U.S. supporters of the DSWT’s charitable mission can choose to make a tax-deductible contribution to U.S. Friends of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a 501(c)(3) organization. Please contact infous@sheldrickwildlifetrust.org or visit https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/html/help_USA.html