A few months into lockdown, photos of wildlife roaming urban streets around the world went viral. Here in the UK, goats wandered through Llandudno as herds of fallow deer grazed the lawns of housing estates in east London. On the streets of Haifa, Israel, wild boar snuffled and foraged for food while in Istanbul river dolphins jumped in the Bosphorus where huge tankers, cargo ships and passenger boats previously criss-crossed.
In our locked down world these stories showed us that the moment we lighten our footprint, wildlife flourishes and in doing so, transforms the health of the planet for all. It also showed us that the wild world, with all its creativity and colour, is not locked away in some far away nature reserve, but right here at the edges of our urban existence, waiting for the door to open.
The herd started life in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India, where they were created by the tribal communities who successfully live alongside their real-life counter parts. Here people and elephants coexist in denser populations than anywhere else in the world. The Adivasi know what crops to plant and where and when to walk, so that nature can thrive alongside them. Their story is one the whole world can learn from.
CoExistence calls for a mass restoration of the natural world and our place within it. It calls for everyone to make changes to our way of life so that depleted wildlife populations can bounce back. The story of these elephants is a template for how to do that.
Flying in with the herd on 5th July are flocks of extinct or endangered British birds such as the nightingale, curlew, dalmatian pelican and turtle dove. These tiny feathered treasures draw attention to the biodiversity we have lost in our own landscapes, and one of the most ambitious restoration visions to launch in the past 12 months; WildEast. Initiated by three farmers, WildEast will turn East Anglia in to one of the biggest, most connected and restored nature reserves in the world.
CoExistence asks the question: If some people can live with the largest terrestrial mammal on this earth, then we can surely do a better job of living alongside smaller animals here in the UK such as beavers, badgers and even the reintroduction of long lost species such as lynx and magnificent Dalmatian pelicans?
Sir David Attenborough has called on us to rewild our world. Let’s answer that call and help solve the biggest twin threats of our day: biodiversity loss and climate change.
by Dr Tarsh Thekaekara
Working under the creative direction of The Real Elephant Collective, a community of 70 Adivasi artists and wildlife conservationists have spent the past five years recreating every elephant they live alongside, in intricately detailed sculptural form.
Shubhra Nayar, co-founder and designer at The Real Elephant Collective, holds a degree in Textile Design from the prestigious National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India and an MA in Theatre Design from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in the UK. Shubhra’s anatomically perfect sketches have formed the basis of each elephant sculpture in the CoExistence exhibition.
Ruth Ganesh is a creative conservationist and has conceptualised the CoExistence campaign in its entirety. Her speciality is imagining and delivering major public art events which have raised more than £15 million for conservation so far. She is a member of the Real Elephant Collective, trustee of The British Asian Trust and Elephant Family, and co-founder of the new environmental arts body – Platform Earth.
Dr Tarsh Thekaekara lives in the Nilgiri Hills and is currently involved in two main areas of research – integrating human-elephant spaces and better understanding invasive species, particularly lanatana camara. Dr Tarsh holds a PhD in Geography from The Open University and MSc in Biodiversity, and a Conservation and Management degree from The University of Oxford. He is a conservationist, trustee of the Shola Trust and member of The Real Elephant Collective.
George Butler is an award-winning reportage illustrator focusing on current affairs. His drawings, predominantly for the British press, have taken him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan and West Africa. However, it was the people he met during the war in Syria that captured his imagination, and his heart. He started the Hands Up Foundation along with three like-minded friends, until date the organisation has raised in excess of £5 million to support Syrian doctors and teachers.
He is an SDG Goalkeeper, chosen by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a TEDX Speaker. George’s work resides in the National Archive at the V&A. His focus now is the natural world. In addition to the illustrations created for CoExistence, George has produced an exhibition tracking human-wildlife coexistence around the world to run alongside the campaign.
People per km2: 455
Wild elephants: 27,000
Wild tigers: 3,000
Wild leopards: 9,265
Estimated crops loss per annum: 500,000 hectares
Human wildlife conflict mortality per annum: 600 People
People per km2: 270
Red deer: 350,000
Wild boar: 500 - 100
Scottish wildcat: 100 - 300
100% of sale proceeds benefit the work of Elephant Family, including securement of wildlife corridors which enable safe movement for animals and people, the expansion of national parks and the protection of vital indigenous tribal knowledge and livelihoods.
The sculptures come in four main sizes: tuskers, matriarchs, adolescents, and calves. The creation of these sculptures generates employment for local communities and removes an invasive plant from protected areas. Each sculpture is unique, exact dimensions will vary.