In 1979 there were 1.3 million elephants in Africa. Now, in 2016, there are less than 400,000. That’s an average loss of around 2,000 per month for the last 37 years. As I stand listening to Will Travers OBE and CEO of the Born Free Foundation, break this tragic statistic down during the Remembering Elephants exhibitions private viewing, everyone in the room is silent, shocked and saddened by what they hear.
Think about it some more. 2,000 elephants a month for 37 years. It almost seems so huge in scale it must be wrong. Sadly, it’s not. Poaching and the ivory trade have a lot to answer for.
But here’s another problem. Although wildlife is in decline on a global scale, the world in which we live is full of suffering, both human and animal. In fact there is so much suffering that it almost seems impossible for the plight of one to trump another and indeed, should it? In a weird twist, that suffering breeds competition in the form of the many charities vying to raise awareness for their chosen cause and push it to the forefront. The problem for wildlife, especially the more exotic, is it’s disconnected from the reality of the average person on the street.
Regardless of that disconnect, it doesn’t make the issues any less serious. In this instance, just because those people might not know, the decline of elephants it is happening right now. We can’t just sit back and leave it up to chance by simply ‘hoping’ these elephants bounce back. They won’t. If something, anything, can be done to help, it’s worth a try. The only certainty is that doing nothing makes the threat of extinction almost inevitable.
That’s where Remembering Elephants comes into play. Founded by wildlife photographer Margot Raggett and backed by the Born Free Foundation and Land Rover, it’s an unprecedented wildlife photography project, bringing together 65 of the worlds top wildlife photographers, including such greats as Art Wolfe and Jonathan & Angela Scott, each donating a photo to the project. With a passion for elephants, Margot wanted to actively support their conservation and Remembering Elephants is the result, culminating in a beautiful coffee table book and exhibition, funded by an exceptionally successful Kickstarter campaign and Land Rover respectively and using the collective reach of all those photographers to spread the word to a bigger audience. What all this means, is that all the proceeds from every book sale and every image sold at the exhibition will go directly into elephant conservation via the Born Free Foundation. Lovers of wildlife get to own a beautiful book or print and elephants get that little bit more of a fighting chance. Everyone wins.
The VIP private viewing of the exhibition also served as a way for Born Free to auction off one of the limited edition books, signed by many of the contributing photographers. A winning bid of £1200 secured it’s new home to a very generous and excited owner. The launch week of the project also hosted a fund raising event at the Royal Geographic Society with talks by Virginia McKenna, Art Wolfe and biologist and conservationist Ian Redmond. It was an incredible evening in which 10 limited edition prints were expertly auctioned off by James Lewis, some fetching upwards of £2000 and ensuring both events added significantly to an ever growing pot of funds that will directly benefit Africa’s elephants.
With all this force behind the project, it was of course wonderful to be involved as one of the contributing photographers. My image, entitled Family Life, was taken in Laikipia, Kenya back in February 2016. Whilst at the time I was lying in very unpleasant smelling mud, next to the projects founder Margot, I simply revelled in watching these gentle creatures drink under the hot African midday sun. It’s since been pointed out to me that what one particular person liked about the image is that the muddled reflection speaks to the unclear future these intelligent and magnificent animals face. I must admit I’m not always one to look for deeper meaning to my images but in this instance, it seems to fit very well.
Family Life is currently available to buy as a framed print at the exhibition, then subsequently can be purchased as a print in a range of sizes with 50% of all profits being donated back into elephant conservation, again via the Born Free Foundation.
The Remembering Elephants exhibition runs (at the time of writing) until Saturday 1st October 2016 at La Galleria Pall Mall, London. Books can continue to be purchased from www.rememberingelephants.com.