Elephant Parade; London, May, 2010
What a surprise!
It was such a great surprise on a grey London morning...it was the last thing I ever expected to see as I turned the corner of a busy London street. But there it was, a model baby elephant gloriously funny; a splodge of fun brightening up the dismal day.
But why? What was it all about? As a visitor to London from the provinces, I had no idea what the elephant was doing there, forming part of some psychedelic dream worthy of a London in the sixties. I began to read the legend attached to the base of the elephant and gradually began to understand the reason for the elephant and found out that there were 250 other such baby elephants scattered across the metropolis, as if by random.
Why baby elephants?
The elephants were the protagonists of a massive outdoor exhibition which was held in London between May and July of 2010, known as The London Elephant Parade.These elephants had been designed and painted by a wide range of artists and sculptors, bringing public attention to the plight of the Asian elephant, in extreme danger of extinction.
The population of the Asian elephant has declined by 90% in only the last 100 years. The population currently stands at only 30,000 elephants in Asia, compared to a much healthier 500,000 in Africa.
Why such a rapid decline?
The main reason for the decline of the population of this universally admired mammal is due to human-elephant conflict. Elephants are migratory animals and move long distances to feed, mate and reproduce. In order to do this, elephants use long-established pathways or ' corridors' to travel enormous distances. There have been 88 such corridors identified in Asia, and now, several conservation charities and societies are working together to protect these corridors and help locals to find alternative solutions to the elephant-man conflict that is arising due to development in areas where elephants were formerly roaming free.
The charity organisation 'Elephant Family' was established to increase awareness of the ensuing danger of extinction of this wonderful animal, and to raise funds to provide effective solutions to some of the problems existing. After the elephants are exhibited in public places around the city, they are then auctioned off, at sometimes very considerable sums, which are then distributed between the artist and the charity itself. As an example, one elephant painted by the Scottish artist Jack Vettriano brought 155,000 pounds. The organisation has already held similar 'parades' in other cities in Belgium, France and Thailand the first one in 2007 in Rotterdam. Because of the great success of the project, London became the next venue. In 2011, more parades will be set up in Heerlen in the Netherlands, Copenhagen in Denmark and Singapore
However, because of the expansion of the human population and the development of areas on or very near the corridors into farmland, villages, towns, industrial development (especially mining development) these 'corridors' are becoming encroached upon and colonised by humans. Some parts of these corridors have even been used as a base for road building. As the elephants are accustomed to the same pathways, they often cause tremendous damage to human developments and so in turn are hunted down and killed in order to stop them destroying homes or even human deaths. In many cases they are merely killed in revenge for damage caused. Of course, elephants are also still being poached for ivory, and because only male elephants have tusks, this leads to an great imbalance in male-female ratio. Latest figures show that in some areas male-female ratio may be as low as 1 male to 100 females. The effects on reproduction figures are obvious
The elephant is the largest land mammal and has the largest brain (approximately 5 kilos) which means it can store a great amount of information. It has incredible memory skills which help it to feed in safe areas, avoid dangerous ones, follow the same corridors to migrate to different areas to mate and so on. Studies seem to suggest that it can also develop emotional ties as it has a strong sense of family and protection towards its own kind. This is a majestic animal which inspires great admiration and deserves protection. Also, it supplies essential balance to Eco-systems in the area it inhabits from which humans benefit in the long term.
Before I saw these elephants in London, I had no idea about this issue and can only applaud the organisers and the creative minds behind such an event. It has led me to become more aware of other endangered species and to take much more interest in the human-animal conflict.
Although unfortunately I was unable to buy an baby elephant, or contribute financially to this cause, I hope I have been able to spread a little awareness through this article.
For more information see the following link: General Information on Elephant Protection