Kate on Conservation

How Many Elephants?

young elephant calf walks along in Shamwari Game Reserve

How many elephants are killed by poachers each day in Africa? Answer: 96. How many is that a year? 35,000. How many elephants are left? 400,000. How long until we lose these incredible animals if things continue as they are? Just 10 short years.

Last week, I posted about the brilliant campaign ‘How Many Elephants’ and the support that the initiative received from alcoholic drink brand, Amarula. If you missed that, you can check it out here.

I was delighted to attend their inaugural event with fellow blogger, Helen in Wonderlust, at the Royal Geographic Society to meet the lady behind the campaign; designer, adventurer and How Many Elephants Founder, Holly Budge.

Holly welcomed a room full of artists, designers, writers, conservationists and politicians to launch an evening created to raise awareness and vital funds for a species on the edge of an extinction crisis.

Her dream, it was confidently announced, is to see the luxury travel market in Africa giving just 1% of its profits to local communities. It is indeed true, that this would make a huge difference to the world of wildlife conservation.

Beks Ndlovu — African Bush Camps

African Bush Camps were the main sponsors of the evening, and it was great to hear their CEO and Founder, Beks Ndlovu, talk about his love of Africa and the wildlife he encounters.

Combined with stunning video footage of elephants at Kanga Pan, Beks spoke of his experience in sharing the sights and sounds of Africa with visiting tourists since leaving school at 18 years old.

Today, with 400 employers in the organisation, he sees one of his biggest roles in protecting elephants as empowering communities — leaving the audience with the African proverb; ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’.

Black Mambas — Anti-poaching squad

I’ve written about the incredible Black Mambas – South Africa’s first and only all-female front line anti-poaching team — on this blog previously, so it was wonderful to discover that they are one of the beneficiaries of the money raised by ‘How Many Elephants’.

The women of the Black Mambas anti-poaching unit protect the rhinos and elephants of the Balule Nature Reserve unarmed, showing a remarkable sense of bravery.

Although, sadly, none of the unit were in attendance of the event in person, they had provided a pre-recorded video, thanking those supporting the cause.

Dr Niall McCann — Biologist

Biologist and National Geographic Explorer, Dr Niall McCann was next to the stage, entertaining everyone with funny stories of his work in the field and the steps that led him to become Director of Conservation for National Park Rescue.

“People are intrinsic to everything. They are of course the problem, but they are also the solution,” he told us, with infectious positivity.

I’m sure many conservationists would agree that it often feels as though there are few wins when it comes to protecting threatened species, but listening to Dr Niall’s success story of Zimbabwe‘s Chizarira National Park, which he helped to transform from a poacher’s paradise, to a thriving park; it was refreshing to relish in a positive outcome.

What’s more, his work has not only drastically changed the behaviour of the poachers in the vicinity, but also the behaviour of the elephants; who are now much easier to observe and record. In Niall’s words, ‘they are more visible, because they are no longer afraid’.

Gavin Bowyer — Photographer

For me, an unexpected treat of the evening, was to hear from photographer Gavin Bowyer — unexpected because his presence had not been advertised on the Eventbrite page beforehand. But what a wonderful addition!

Showcasing some of his beautiful work, which can be viewed at the-sympathetic-lens.com, it’s evident that spending time observing such magnificent creatures is bound to result in a deep admiration and empathy.

“It’s the power and might of the elephant, but also the tenderness of these animals, that tugs on the heart strings,” Gavin explained.

How exciting to hear that two of my most respected conservationist idols, photographer Angela Scott and wildlife filmmaker Jonathan Scott (who I recently spoke to on this blog about their latest series; Big Cat Tales), were acknowledged as two of Gavin’s great influences in wildlife photography.

He, quite rightfully, described former Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Angela Scott, as ‘an amazing monochrome photographer’. Anyone who has purchased the book Sacred Nature, is bound to agree with this sentiment!

Of Jonathan Scott he said: “He’s so in tune with Africa and its animals, that he instinctively knows what’s going to happen next, and boy does that make a difference!”

As an added bonus, Gavin also used the opportunity to speak about the incredible work of Conservation Through Public Health. An organisation aimed at helping Uganda’s gorillas, set up by Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka.

I was fortunate enough to interview Gladys at the Whitley Awards press conference last year, on behalf of National Geographic Kids magazine (you can see that here, if you missed it), so I was delighted to hear a brief mention of her incredible work to protect gorillas from catching human diseases — spread through tourism and the use of gorilla ‘scarecrows’ by local communities.

Holly Budge — How Many Elephants

Naturally, the main speaker of the evening was How Many Elephants’ Founder, Holly Budge.

Holly, named “one of the UK’s most accomplished female adventurers” by British Airways, spoke of her love of skydiving, and how, in the ‘boldness of youth’, she became the first woman to skydive Mount Everest.

After seeing the incredible mountain from above, she was gripped with a determination to climb the formidable peak — a feat she accomplished in 2017, to raise money for Africa’s elephants.

Tales of the challenge of summiting Mount Everest came hand-in-hand with the development of How Many Elephants, and what it means; a visual campaign that focuses on the plight of African Elephants by displaying the shocking elephant poaching statistics in a purely visual way.

Vegetable Ivory to save elephants

Holly explained that, while life as an adventurer comes with plenty of excitement, she realised that — as a designer by trade originally — she had lost touch with her creative side.

She told the audience how, six years ago, she enrolled to study a Masters in Sustainable design; which is how she discovered the material ‘vegetable ivory’.

Vegetable ivory comes from a palm oil seed in South America, and — as a designer — Holly began to study the material’s likeness to an elephant’s ivory tusk (the seed’s official name even translates to ‘elephant vegetable’ in Greek).

Her studies lead on to research into the complicated issue of elephant poaching across African; its markets, and the wider issue of the illegal wildlife trade. It was then that ‘How Many Elephants’ was born, to bridge the gap between scientific data and human connection through public awareness and education — and the centre-piece would be a necklace made from vegetable ivory; to show the findings of her research.

This beautiful piece of jewellery, a replica of her original project, was one of the items sold at auction to raise funds for the Black Mambas, National Park Rescue and Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust.

It’s a necklace designed to show 96 elephants; the number of elephants poached each day in Africa. Alongside the 95 elephants made from the ivory alternative, is a singe brass elephant — as poachers’ bullets are commonly made from brass. A shocking visual image indeed!

If you’d like to hear more about the work of How Many Elephants, visit: https://www.howmanyelephants.co

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