Elephant Parade Raises Awareness for Endangered Species
October is Elephant Awareness Month. According to the World Wildlife Fund, both Asian and African elephants are at high risk of extinction, making this the perfect time to remind ourselves that these majestic mammals need our help out in the wild.
Habitat loss and poaching due to the illegal demand for ivory are the biggest threats to elephants. Even though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) banned the international sale of ivory in 1989, an increase in poaching for the ivory trade in recent years is now threatening African elephant populations that had been showing signs of recovery, and in 2011 the highest volume of illegal ivory was seized since 1989. Meanwhile, the largest threat to Asian elephants is habitat loss, which causes human-elephant conflict as these populations overlap.
Although the state of elephants in the wild can be discouraging, a number of conservation efforts are under way to help these threatened populations. Perhaps one of the most creative campaigns raising awareness and funds for elephant conservation is that of the Elephant Parade.
Marc Spits, cofounder of the Elephant Parade, was inspired to create this unique event during a visit to an elephant hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
“There, he saw a baby elephant [named Mosha] who stepped on a landmine and needed urgent care and support as she had lost a large part of her leg from the blast. He wanted to help, but instead of writing a check, came up with the idea of Elephant Parade,” says Mike Spits, Marc’s son and fellow cofounder of the Elephant Parade. “He showed me his idea, and I offered to help him in his mission to not only help the baby elephant Mosha but offer help and awareness for the Asian elephant in general, as they are going extinct.”
An Adoring Fan
Samar Safieddine, age 4, from Beckton, England, with "Wild London," designed by Patricia Shrigley, at the preview launch of the Elephant Parade National Tour at King’s Cross station in London.
Woman posing with "Forest," an elephant statue designed by supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
Mike Spits, cofounder of the Elephant Parade, poses with statues at King's Cross.
Angie Rogers designed her elephant statue based on the famous rose and heart windows of York Minster, the Gothic cathedral in York, England. "The Rose Window features the white and red rose symbols of York and Lancaster, respectively," Rogers says. "The design on the outside of the elephant is of the inside of the cathedral looking out."
The Butterfly Effect
Jane Veveris Callan on the meaning behind her elephant: "The butterfly effect highlights the importance of each individual making an effort, no matter how small."
Keith Siddle and Yonis Abdulle collaborated to create this elephant statue. Abdulle is a schoolboy who came up with the design as part of his school's program. The statue was "inspired by Yonis' design, which was full of imagination," Siddle says. "The moment I saw it, I sensed Pira-Phant's potential to become a striking character that people of all ages could fall in love with."
Started in 2006, the parade is a traveling art exhibition of life-size baby elephant statues that are painted by famous or up-and-coming artists, architects and other celebrities. Sometimes school kids also get the chance to decorate statues. The exposition has traveled to many different countries, including Belgium, Italy, and the United Kingdom. There are usually at least 30 and sometimes as many as 200 statues at each exhibit; a smaller Mosha statue is always included, to honor the elephant who inspired it all.
Art With a Social Conscience
The statues for each stop on the traveling parade are created specifically for that location. When the parade moves on, new statues are custom made. After the statues are on display for a few weeks at each stop, they are auctioned off and the proceeds go to The Asian Elephant Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing awareness of these endangered mammals through conservation projects and educational programs. In addition, 20 percent of the Elephant Parade’s net profit also goes to the foundation. According to the Elephant Parade website, some of the first funds ever raised from the parade were sent to the hospital where Marc met Mosha.
“The great thing about Elephant Parade is that we reach millions of people in a positive way through easily accessible art (in the streets). We also develop school education programs to educate kids on the importance of knowing what is going on," Spits says. "They are the upcoming stewards of planet Earth."
For the first time, the parade is now in the United States. It made its American debut in Dana Point, California, this August. The 10-week exhibition is showcasing 37 hand-painted statues at various Dana Point resorts, parks and beaches. Celebrities including Khloe Kardashian, Cesar Millan and Lily Tomlin designed some of the statues.
“The response has been tremendous. People are very passionate about the cause,” says Matt McNally, director for The Resorts of Dana Point.
McNally told vetstreet.com that Dana Point was chosen because the community shares a commitment to conservation with the Elephant Parade. Dana Point calls itself "the whale capital of the world," and the community is very conservation-minded as a result, according to McNally.
A World Without Elephants?
The elephants on display will be brought back together for a viewing period between November 10 and 16, before they are sent to auction on November 17 at Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa to raise funds for The Asian Elephant Foundation.
“What would Asia look like without elephants?" asks Spits. "And if the elephants go, the other majestic animals will vanish too. They use the same corridors in the jungle to migrate. A world without wild elephants is unimaginable but could soon become reality if we don't act now."
Learn more about the Elephant Parade tour on its website.
Read more Vetstreet conservation articles.