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October 25, 2016updated 03 Nov 2016 10:17am

The late Mark Shand’s conservation charity is helping communities (and elephants)

By Christopher Silvester

Christopher Silvester speaks to the CEO of Elephant Family, who tells him saving the Asian pachyderms is very much a ‘humanitarian endeavour’.

Elephant Family, founded by the late Mark Shand, was born out of his ‘enlarged sense of justice’, says Ruth Powys, Shand’s former girlfriend and CEO of the conservation charity, where she has worked ‘since it was an empty room’ twelve years ago.

Shand’s perception was that the African elephant was getting all the conservation action while the Asian elephant, though less visible, was far more endangered — there are ten African elephants for every Asian elephant. There are somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants, of which around 20,000 are in India.

The ‘sharp end’ of endangerment is in other Asian countries — there are about 200 left in China, 400 in Cambodia, and 500 in Laos. What’s more, very few of these are breeding males. In Myanmar there is even a new challenge, with poachers killing elephants for their skins rather than their ivory. Another spurious use of elephant skin is beads for jewellery.

Elephant Family provides veterinary care for orphaned elephants that have become estranged from their herds in Sumatra, but its principal current activity is raising money to create corridors for elephants in India. It has identified 101 such corridors and the target is £40 million, of which £20 million has already been pledged.

Half the money raised is spent on relocating (human) families outside the various corridors. One project in Assam has relocated two communities with around 100 families. If elephants are denied paths through territory, they can become fearful and distressed. The result is often trampled crops and human misery.

The charity is coming together with other NGOs in the conservation field for the inaugural Animal Ball on 22 November. The guests are buying tables at 40 different London restaurants, which are supporting the fundraiser, and then travelling to a pop-up ballroom at Victoria House, Bloomsbury. Guests are being encouraged to come as their spirit animals and fashion houses are providing animal masks. Some of the villagers whose communities have been relocated by Elephant Family will be there to vouchsafe the effectiveness of the programme.

Elephant conservation in Africa is ‘largely a white person’s endeavour’, says Powys. ‘That is not the case in Asia.’ Conservation is ‘a humanitarian endeavour as much as it is for the benefit of the animals themselves, so our name Elephant Family is especially appropriate’.

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