It is becoming increasingly likely the Asian elephant will become extinct in our life time if we don’t do more to protect them now. Human-elephant conflict, loss of their habitat, poaching, and capture have been the biggest threats. With only about 50,000 left, saving Asian elephants comes at a crucial time.
Future generations will come to learn of these majestic creatures only from images and stories we may tell. Whatever story is told, it will need to include a somber explanation of our collective failure.
The Asian elephant doesn’t get the global attention as its cousin in Africa. The hopeful news is there are several prominent organizations in Southeast Asia educating the public while raising money for conservation and elephant welfare efforts. Complementary to these organizations is the unique effort by the social enterprise, Elephant Parade.
What is a Social Enterprise?
I’ve been learning a lot about social enterprises lately and have been seeking them out during my travels. More and more entrepreneurs are using the power of the marketplace to solve some of the biggest social, environmental, cultural and economic we face.
There are various types of businesses. Some create innovative products addressing a particular need like developing low-cost technology for delivering clean water to rural poor in developing nations. Other social enterprises create opportunities for disadvantaged communities such as training and employment for homeless youth and adults.
Another type of social enterprise uses a giving back model. Elephant Parade is a great example. As a social enterprise, the company brings together famous artists and celebrities in decorating and painting elephant statues. These life-size baby elephant statues are exhibited in cities around the world where they are auctioned to raise money and awareness of elephant welfare.
Local artisans also create replicas to sell worldwide raising more money for elephant conservation as a sustainable way for saving Asian elephants in Thailand, India, Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia.
Elephant Parade’s origin story begins with a baby elephant named Mosha. Mosha was only 7 months old when she lost her front leg as a result of stepping on a landmine between the Thailand and Myanmar border back in 2006. Marc Spits was traveling in Thailand on holiday and visited the world’s first elephant hospital in Lampang, Thailand. That is where he met Mosha.
Doctors said as Mosha grew, her spine would not be able to hold her weight and her spine would begin to bend as she aged and grew. Mosha would have a short life walking on only three legs. Marc asked about fitting her with a prosthetic leg. At the time the hospital didn’t have the money nor was it a solution that had been ever attempted for an elephant. Plus, Mosha would need a new fitting each year. It seemed her fate was already determined.
Yet out of what seem impossible, an idea was born. Father and son, Marc and Mike Spits created their social enterprise, Elephant Parade.
Painting a Way to Salvation
We wanted to help Mosha and create something structural that would be profitable in the long run – Marc Spits
Elephant Parade’s model blends art, business, and conservation to raise awareness and support for elephant welfare issues around the world in a fun, creative, inspiring, and informative way.
The father and son team has brought together celebrities and artists from around the world to paint beautiful works of art on life-size baby elephant statues. These elephant statues are then exhibited around the world raising awareness and money to save Asian elephants.
The first art exhibition was held in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 2007. The first round of money raised allowed Mosha to have a second chance at life. She became the first elephant ever to receive and functionally use a prosthetic leg.
Since the start there has been 25 exhibitions held around the world including in the U.K. India, and Brazil. Artist Jack Vettriano’s “The Singing Butler” holds the record of the most money raised for a single elephant statue at £155,000 ($210,000) for the London exhibition in 2010.
The life-sized baby statues are created by artists and celebrities from around the world. The list of well-known names that have been part of Elephant Parade include Jack Vettriano, Jonathan Yeo, Ronald Ventura, Tommy Hilfiger, Katy Perry, DJ Hardwell, Ricky Gervais, the HRH Prince Consort of Denmark, and many others.
More than 1350 artists have participated creating 1480 original art pieces. Limited edition, handcrafted replicas and a variety of products are created from the exhibition elephants. More than 200 brands have also participated and supported the social enterprise including Hello Kitty, BMW, Vanity Fair, and others.
20% of Elephant Parade net profits are donated to elephant welfare and conservation projects.
Elephant Parade also holds an on-going competition for anyone who wants to participate. A jury of curators pick the best design to be made into a full sized baby elephant and displayed at an upcoming Elephant Parade exhibition.
Visiting Elephant Parade Land
In 2012, Elephant Parade opened Elephant Parade Land in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The space includes their studio, warehouse, museum, and the Elephant Parade statue garden. Visitors can take a guided tour of the grounds, dig a bit deeper into the mission of Elephant Parade, meet some of the local artistans, and discover some fun facts about elephants while learning about conservation projects to save Asian elephants. Visitors also can paint their own designs on minature elephant statues during the painting workshop.
Saving Asian Elephants: What You Can Do to Help
If you are taking a trip to Thailand, make sure to add Chiang Mai, the Rose of the North as part of your plans. Beyond the exquisite Buddhist temples, delectable Thai dishes, and friendly locals, you will find Elephant Parade Land just outside of the city.
There you can be part of the the effort in saving Asian elephants, learn more about Elephant Parade and the different conservation projects it supports, and tour the grounds. Make sure to visit the store to pick up your own unique elephant souvenirs and for amazing gifts for family an friends. You will also find smaller shops around Chiang Mai and at stands in various malls in the city.
Consider making a purchase at the Elephant Paradde online store at https://store.elephantparade.com/elephants/.
I don’t often collect souvenirs but I admittedly am obsessed with these artistic elephant statues. I have 3 of my own elephant statues and with new designs being created, I’m sure my collection will continue to grow. And they make great gifts.
As for Mosha today, Elephant Parade continues to contribute funds to Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital for the continued care of Mosha and for a new fitting each year until she reaches adulthood around 20 years old. Mosha is 12 years old.
Plus Mosha has become bit of a international celebrity in her own right. She has been featured in every Elephant Parade exhibition event since 2007.
Have you encountered an awesome social enterprise during your travels?
Post their name and website in comments. Hopefully other readers and travelers can learn more, plan, and visit these places for an upcoming trip.
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