This Elephant Appreciation Day, meet adventurer and conservationist Holly Budge, Founder of UK charity How Many Elephants and Co-Founder of World Female Ranger Day. Holly uses her interests in sustainable design, travel and adventure to bring the plight of elephants to new audiences. Read on to find out how…
Happy Elephant Appreciation Day 2021! Elephants are one of my favourite animals, due to their incredible compassionate nature and strong family bonds. I’m pretty sure that if I could choose to be any other animal, I would choose the elephant.
But of course, living life as an elephant is a risky business. Being in possession of two large teeth that have an enormous price tag attached to them means the threat of death at the hands of humans is never far away.
Do you know how many elephants are killed by poachers each day in Africa? 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.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of such cruel devastation to such sentient creatures. But if we want things to change, we must take action and believe that the fight to protect our planet’s wildlife is one worth taking on. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to encounter lots of incredible conservationists proving that their work is making a positive impact on troubled species, such as elephants. One such individual who is showing just how much one person can make a difference is How Many Elephants Founder Holly Budge. I decided to find out more…
Communicating the plight of elephants
I was curious to learn more about Holly’s work with How Many Elephants — which I spotlighted on a previous blog post. If you would like to know more about what they do and why, more info can be found here.
Name: Holly Budge
Organisation: How Many Elephants (a UK charity)
Occupation: Adventurer, Founder How Many Elephants, Co-Founder of World Female Ranger Day
Special achievements: First Woman to Skydive Mount Everest, Climbed to the summit of Mount Everest, Compete in the world’s longest horse race; 1000kms across Mongolia riding semi wild horses.
Do you remember the first time you saw elephants in the wild?
I do. It was magical! My first encounter with an elephant was over twenty years ago in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. It was a dramatic scene as a bull elephant in musth tore strips of barks off the tree. The atmosphere was intense, our guide was on full alert, as elephants in musth can be highly aggressive, and their testosterone levels are much higher than usual. We sat quietly and observed from a safe distance; thankfully, the elephant was preoccupied with his bark stripping activities and had no interest in coming over to see us! It was a privilege to observe these iconic creatures in their natural habitat.
How did your interest in elephants begin?
I’ve always had a deep love of nature and wildlife. My interest in African elephants started when I was doing my masters in sustainable design eight years ago. I studied vegetable ivory, a sustainable plant material from a palm tree in the South American rainforest. It’s a beautiful material in its own right. Still, its similarity in colour and texture to elephant ivory got me researching the African elephant crisis, and I haven’t looked back. I founded my design-led international non-profit, How Many Elephants, to raise awareness of the elephant crisis and funds for rangers on the front line.
You used vegetable ivory to make a necklace. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
While researching the African elephant crisis during my Masters, I was horrified by the poaching statistics of 96 elephants being poached a day for their ivory. I wanted to use my skills as a designer to develop a fresh design-led awareness-raising campaign. The striking ’96 Elephants a Day’ Necklace showcases 96 elephants, the daily poaching rate in Africa, with each elephant cut in vegetable ivory.
I’ve weaved a narrative into the piece with one elephant hand cut in brass to show the one-day aspect of the infographic. One elephant is facing the other way to show that there is still hope to turn this crisis around. However, at the current poaching rate, the African elephant in the wild could be extinct in the next decade.
I’m using design to bridge the gap between scientific data and human connection. My campaign is 100% non-gory, non- gruesome and non-political. I’m simply making the data visual, which has proved to be highly successful in terms of impact and engagement. I have connected with many different audiences, including children, who might not have been able to connect with this issue if I had shown gory images.
Further to the How Many Elephants necklace, you also created the How Many Elephant exhibition. How does that take your message further?
My hard-hitting global travelling exhibition visualises 35,000 elephants to show the annual poaching rate in Africa. To see and connect with this data in a purely visual way is impactful. Plus, it’s not about assigning blame or pointing the finger. It’s about showing the sheer scale of the crisis and educating a global audience about the devastating impacts of the ivory trade.
The exhibition moves around and has been shown at several travel shows around the world, for example, last week we had the display at a sustainable travel forum – A World For Travel – in Portugal, which had 300 delegates, including heads of state and tourism ministers, and an online audience of 50,000 viewers.
I also delivered a keynote talk on conservation’s crossroads with the travel industry and participated in a panel discussion focused on reorganising the travel industry. I believe more cross-sector collaboration needs to happen between the tourism industry and the conservation industry. After all, with no wildlife, there will be no wildlife-based tourism and, in turn, no tourism business.
The largest exhibition I’ve held was inside a refurbished chapel in the UK, where I displayed 100,000 elephant silhouettes from the floor to the 7-metre high ceiling of the chapel. The exhibition was on for six months, during which time over 1500 school children attended workshops, and I held many talks. I’m always looking for new venues, particularly public spaces, including airports and train stations, to keep spreading the message and raising funds for direct action initiatives on the ground.
You’ve also raised vital funds for elephant conservation over the years. Can you tells us a little more about that?
Navigating the fundraising space in Covid-19 times has been challenging, especially in the absence of live fundraising events. However, we have supported direct-action projects in Africa through grants to The Black Mambas in South Africa, Akashinga, National Park Rescue and Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe this year.
In a recent project, we installed solar-powered wifi to support The Black Mambas and their Bush Babies eco-education programme. The Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit had the following to say about this exciting initiative “I want to express our gratitude to How Many Elephants, for the wonderful kindness and generosity showed towards the Black Mambas and Bush Babies.”
“The recent donation to install wifi and solar power has placed our programme on the cutting-edge of community upliftment and conservation education. I do not think any of us could have imagined the added value this project would bring to the work of the Black Mambas and Bush Babies.”
At How Many Elephants, we will continue to work hard to raise awareness, provide education and support direct action initiatives in the fight to save the African elephants and support rangers on the front line.
Earlier this year, you launched World Female Rangers Day – how did that come about?
From summiting Everest to becoming the first woman to skydive Everest, I’m no stranger to adventure but patrolling on the front lines with multiple all-female ranger teams in Africa was a whole different beast. This was the inspiration behind the recent launch of World Female Ranger Day, which has formed the global fundraising arm of How Many Elephants to highlight and celebrate female wildlife rangers’ work worldwide.
Across the world, female rangers are working tirelessly to conserve wildlife and wild spaces. Through primary research, we have located over 3,500 female rangers across 18 countries in Africa alone and many more that we’ve discovered in other countries, including India, Venezuela, and Australia.
World Female Ranger Day is the first-time female wildlife rangers have been recognised collectively on a global online platform to tell their stories, have access to peer support, and share best practices, amplifying their conservation efforts. I’ve been championing and supporting the work of female rangers for eight years because these women are bold, changing the game and paving the way for women to stand alongside men at the forefront of conservation. But they need allies.
Many of the inspirational female rangers we are working with for World Female Ranger Day have overcome adversity, poverty and marginalisation. Becoming a ranger has empowered them, turned them into breadwinners and property owners, and gave them access to higher education and much-needed healthcare.
Their often-challenging work on the front line, defending wildlife and protecting wild spaces, makes a difference. They are role models inspiring women in their communities, and beyond that, anything is possible. It is so important for girls and women to identify with ‘real’ role models. I believe that great role models do not have to have elite qualities of physical or mental advantage.
World Female Ranger Day centres around the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, specifically No.17: Partnerships for the Goals. We’re seeking further long-term strategic partnerships with companies, associations, and global citizens to expand the campaign’s reach and ultimately strengthen the support of female rangers globally.
For more information about How Many Elephants and the latest news from Holly, visit:
Learn more about African elephants
- Discover How many elephants?
- Learn about Amarula’s support of How Many Elephants
- Namibia’s PEACE Project is saving elephants (and people)
- Read about the plight of elephants during CITES 2016
- Discover the short film ‘The Elephant in the Room’
- Read more about ivory poaching
- Find out about my World of Wildlife Art Exhibition in support of elephants
- See what happened on World Elephant Day 2018