Some of Daphne Sheldrick’s closest friends were animals.

The daughter of a British farmer, Ms. Sheldrick fed a baby antelope named Bushy from a milk bottle every four hours. She grew up to be a wildlife conservationist who helped nurse, bathe and occasionally apply sunscreen to more than 230 orphaned elephants. Her decades of work on their behalf made her one of the world’s foremost champions of a creature she described as a “human animal.”

Ms. Sheldrick died April 12 in Nairobi . She was 83.

The cause was breast cancer, her daughter Angela Sheldrick said in a statement from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Ms. Sheldrick created the organization in 1977 and named it for her husband, who had died earlier that year and was the founding warden of Kenya’s largest national park.

Conservasionist Daphne Sheldrick. (The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/AFP/Getty)
Conservasionist Daphne Sheldrick. (The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/AFP/Getty)

A baby formula for elephants

After marrying in 1960, Ms. Sheldrick and her husband worked together to preserve elephants at Tsavo East, a sprawling, untamed preserve of more than 5,000 square miles.

While David Sheldrick organized one of the country’s first anti-poaching units, led early studies of ­elephant diets and migration, and established a network of all-weather roadways through the park, Ms. Sheldrick focused on rescuing young elephants whose mothers had been speared by ivory hunters.

Baby elephants depend on milk until they are about 3, and for 28 years, Ms. Sheldrick struggled to develop a formula that approximated their mothers’ in taste and nutrition. The elephant calves bridled at cow’s milk, but Ms. Sheldrick — after successfully devising a formula for baby rhinos — eventually landed on an ambrosia-like mixture that incorporated coconut oil.

Her close relationship to elephants

Often described as the first person to hand-rear a newborn elephant, Ms. Sheldrick appeared on television programs such as “60 Minutes” and in the 2011 Imax documentary “Born to Be Wild.”

She was known to roll through the mud or traipse barefoot through the dirt with elephants in her charge, and sometimes comforted newborns that screamed in their sleep, apparently suffering nightmares.

“Elephants are very human ­animals,” she once told National Geographic. “Their emotions are exactly the same as ours. They’ve lost their families, have seen their mothers slaughtered, and they come here filled with aggression — devastated, broken and grieving.”

In her organization’s early years, she recalled, she bonded especially close with an elephant that died when Ms. Sheldrick left for a wedding. During her two-week absence, the elephant had grown depressed and stopped eating. (The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust now pairs animals with multiple human caretakers to reduce the risk of overdependence.)

Conservasionist Daphne Sheldrick with her daughters, Angela Sheldrick and Jill Sheldrick-Woodley. (The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/AFP/Getty)
Conservasionist Daphne Sheldrick with her daughters, Angela Sheldrick and Jill Sheldrick-Woodley. (The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/AFP/Getty)

A lifetime’s work

Ms. Sheldrick was often known as Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick. She received an honorary doctorate in veterinary medicine and surgery from the University of Glasgow, and in 2006 was ­appointed dame commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Throughout her life, she promoted the conservation of rhinos, antelope, buffalo, giraffes and most other animals of the East African savanna.

Her organization, overseen for the past 17 years by her daughter Angela, operates a rhino orphan project, anti-poaching teams and mobile veterinary operations, funded in part by a foster program that lets donors support individual animals.

Ms. Sheldrick remained a vocal opponent of poaching in recent years, warning that without ­increased funding for protection and preservation, elephants could be extinct in less than 15 years. A 2017 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species found while elephant poaching has gradually declined, Eastern Africa has lost about half of its elephant population in the past decade.

Her admiration for the animals seemed to grow even as their numbers fell. In the acknowledgments section of her 2012 memoir, “Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story,” she thanked “the elephants themselves, who by example have demonstrated how to cope with adversity. . . .They, who have suffered so much at the hands of humans, never lose the ability to forgive, even though, being elephants, they will never be able to forget.”

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