Sheldrick Wildlife Trust USA: Helping Endangered Elephants Get a Second Chance
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Each year on August 12, conservationists and wildlife preservationists around the globe recognize World Elephant Day, not only to celebrate these magnificent animals, but to raise awareness about the many threats they face as a species.
Poaching, habitat destruction, climate change and human-wildlife conflict are just some of the challenges that elephants and other wildlife face. One count finds that African elephants, once numbering in the millions, are now critically endangered with just 415,000 remaining on the continent.
As Melissa Sciacca, the Executive Director of Sheldrick Wildlife Trust USA, puts it frankly, “This is the pivotal point where people either rally and maintain their support and commitment to wildlife’s long-term survival, or we drop the ball and they’re gone forever.”
Since its inception in 1977, The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has been at the forefront of protecting and rescuing elephants, rhinos, giraffes and other wild species across Kenya. They have been a leader in conservation and preservation by addressing animal welfare injustices, and by enhancing community awareness.
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s activities include boots-on-the-ground anti-poaching efforts, aerial surveillance, animal veterinary units and their popular Orphans’ Project, which has rehabilitated and returned more than 250 elephants to the wild.
Established stateside in 2004, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust USA serves as what Sciacca calls the “eyes and ears” of the U.S. organization through financial support, education and outreach.
Today, the organization’s ongoing work in Kenya includes boots-on-the-ground anti-poaching efforts, aerial surveillance, animal veterinary units, wildlife water sources and their Orphans’ Project. Through this project, orphaned elephants get a second chance at life as they are hand-raised and rehabilitated by caregivers until they can safely be reintegrated back into the wild. As of 2022, the group has successfully raised and rehabilitated 282 orphaned elephants.
The Orphans’ Project has been one of the Trust’s most popular endeavors, particularly with their social media followers and donors. Sciacca says that when it comes to “adopting” an elephant, recurring family giving has been particularly powerful as it allows families to engage with monthly updates and information on the animal’s progress.
It’s that same donor engagement and dedication to preserving wildlife that gives Sciacca hope for the future of the elephants. Philanthropic support is vital in order to “protect these wild spaces and provide the best opportunity possible for [elephants] to flourish.” Unrestricted grantmaking is especially crucial to their efforts, Sciacca says. She notes that these gifts “allow the organization to apply where funds are most needed.”
Donor-advised funds (DAFs) have been a major part of the organization’s unrestricted funding, making up roughly 15-20% of their total fundraising revenue. “We’ve seen, year-over-year, the significant growth of donor-advised funds,” Sciacca says.
While Sciacca says she has seen a shift over the past few years in conservation and wildlife awareness, environment and animal-related causes still only make up about 3% of Americans’ charitable giving. “We still have a lot more work to do,” Sciacca says, but she isn’t giving up on this fantastic wildlife. “There is still hope and still time, so long as people continue to prioritize them.”
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