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ELEPHANT FAMILY

trunks topiary

saving the asian elephant

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magine describing an elephant to someone who had never seen one before. “Well,” you’d say, “they’re sort of wrinkly...massive...grey things... with elongated noses that they use like an arm...oh, and they have two particular ivory teeth that are about 40 inches long and stick out of their mouths.” Nothing can quite prepare you for the giddy thrill that comes with actually seeing an elephant; their utterly unique yet endlessly fascinating appearance and behaviour have endeared them worldwide to naturalists and the public alike. London-based charity elephant family are the only UK based charity solely dedicated to the conservation of the Asian elephant both in the wild and in captivity. Using a varied arsenal of publicity drives and awareness campaigns, the charity raises money for various conservation projects around the world. KUDOS wanted a closer look at one of these conservation initiatives, so we packed our trunk and said goodbye to the office...

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lephant family’s current campaign is The Survival Tour: a 5 city-wide, 4 monthlong migration of 13 life-size topiary elephants, which began in June in Clonakilty, West Cork– the site of their construction – and will end in Brighton this September. En route, the herd of verdant pachyderms will be on show in Regent’s Park & St James’s Park before they trundle their way to Selfridge’s on Oxford Street for the month of August. Along the way, the elephants will receive some snazzy new glad-rags when legendary fashion designers provide glorious blankets to cover the green giants. Designers already confirmed for this Conservation Couture event include Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein and Ralph

image: bruce weber

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Lauren. A campaign of this magnitude could not succeed without a striking symbol, and the huge Survival Tour elephants (the biggest stands 11 feet tall!) are worthy icons of a worthy cause, and the hard work involved in their creation cannot be ignored. The collaborative ethic of the charity was reflected in the construction of the herd, taking in everyone from a Tennessee topiary artist to local Clonakilty residents, eager to lend a helping hand. The frames were constructed by American creative “Topiary” Joe from steel rebar (manufactured from recycled cars), skilfully welded and moulded into intricate wire husks creating the recognisable elephantine shape.


Next came the distinctive, green bodies; all created from a hardy hedge material called box-wood. This was then painstakingly cut into shape and attached to the wire frame. Finally the tusks were made from a variety of materials: one member of the herd has tusks made from coir – coconut fibre from Kerala, an Indian region the charity supports projects in – and another’s are made of rope woven from the Mexican sisal plant. The love and care with which this process was undertaken is obvious now that the herd are a finished product; the shimmering green box-wood gives them an arresting but familiar appearance, from the 11 foot tusker down to the 3ft foot babies. Once The Survival Tour gets into its stride and the herd takes a centrestage in the capital, the media interest will be enormous. However, in the midst of the charity’s famous faces (their supporters include Sir David Attenborough, The Prince of Wales and Stephen Fry) and publicity events, elephant family’s aims must not be forgotten. The project that The Survival Tour seeks to highlight is the creation of wildlife corridors: ancient migratory paths that link the remaining fragments of habitat. Corridors are being developed in many areas in which the Asian elephant is indigenous – particularly in India (the current project is in the south-western

region of Kerala) – and the needs for them are two-fold. Firstly, the inevitable, aggressive forest-felling has left the elephants with an ever decreasing habitat: the securing and opening of each corridor is a strategic attempt to link the remaining feasible habitations. Secondly, the human cost of this elephant displacement has been growing. In an increasingly crowded world, elephants are a problem: they are big, long-ranging and have vast appetites. To survive, they need a lot of space. Starving herds are venturing out of their forest fragments and raiding villages, crops and wreaking havoc. Hundreds of people and elephants have died in the past years in what has become known as “human-elephant conflict” (in 2005, WWF estimated that, in India alone, up to 300 people a year may be killed in this way). elephant family (and partner charities The World Land Trust and The Wildlife Trust of India) know that this is a problem to be dealt with sensitively, preserving and respecting both farmer and wildlife. The Survival Tour is a testament to these exceptional, wondrous creatures: the 13 strong herd serve as an urgent reminder that innovative conservation plans, like wildlife corridors, must be supported for the greater benefit of elephant and man.

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image: robert laycock

ELEPHANT FAMILY

the dates...

These glorious green giants will be on display on the following dates: •

30th June – 6th July St’ James Park, London SW1A

7th July – 26th July Regent’s Park, London NW1

28th July – 27th August Selfridges Oxford Street, London W1U

29th – 31st August Electric Picnic Arts & Music Festival County Laois, Ireland

19th – 30th September The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

the facts...

The Asian Elephant species contains four sub-species: the Indian elephant, the Sri Lankan elephant, the Sumatran elephant and the Borneo elephant. African or Asian? Check the elephant’s hind feet: if it has four nails it’s Asian, if it has three, it’s African! It can weigh up to 4.9 tonnes: that’s about as heavy as 3 Ford Fiestas... Working and captive Asian Elephants are cared for in many countries by mahouts: elephant drivers who wash and feed the animals.

To make a donation to the charity, go to www.justgiving.com/survivaltour For more information on the charity go to www.elephantfamily.org. Or, for the tour itself, go to www.thesurvivaltour.org


Topiary trunks: Saving the Asian elephant