This exhibition is dedicated to the giant, generous and magnificent spirit of Mark Shand, co-founder of Elephant Family.
Tara inspired Mark Shand to start the Elephant Family, having fallen in love with her in India at the start of a journey which would change both of their lives. It was Tara who really taught Mark about elephants, about their emotions and temper and intelligence, and confirmed his absolute love for them. Through Tara, Mark learned that these majestic and beautiful animals were teetering on the brink of extinction and that the conservation-conscious western world seemed indifferent to their impending tragedy. Something had to be done and so Elephant Family was born.
Tara continues to live a happy life with conservationist Belinda Wright at Kipling Camp in central India.
Mark Shand was hard to categorise. To his critics he was a playboy with a cool hobby. To his friends, he was a passionate and informed activist, vigorously campaigning for a future for wild Asian elephants. As my first mentor in conservation nearly 20 years ago, he was both of these. I first joined Fauna & Flora international as an elephant volunteer, about to be sent to Vietnam. Mark drove me to London and talked about elephants non-stop with passion and empathy; ways in which many conservation biologists like me were trained to eschew. I was initially sceptical. What did this guy know about actually saving elephants?
It was only through 20 years of conservation in Asia and Africa that one realises just how important people like Mark have been and are and will be.
Mark not only put Asian Elephants back on the map when the world’s attention was on their African cousins, but create whole new constituencies for conservation that people like me could never hope to capture. Whether it was through his writing (see Travels on My Elephant), his speaking, or simply through his willingness to use his status for the good of elephant conservation, Mark had a quality which ran through all that he did. He had a deep charisma coupled with an even deeper passion. This combination was clear to anyone who met him, and he became a leading authority through his ability to convince people of the need to save elephants.
Wild elephants need charismatic ambassadors, tireless advocates and aggressive fighter. Mark was all of these and he is missed, as much by the magnificent animals he dedicated himself to as by his family and friends.