Trumpeting for a peaceful coexistence

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

An invasive weed treacherously clogging the habitats of Asian wildlife has been harvested and fashioned into a stunning parade of elephants, which are currently residing in Oxford.

A herd of 100 beautifully sculpted life-size Asian elephants have emerged from deep in the jungles of Southern India to embark upon a migration like no other...

Meticulously crafted by a lady-led team from Lantana camara, an invasive weed that’s choking Asia’s natural landscapes, they are leaving the enchanted aura of the bustling forest canopy behind them. Their voyage will take them across the world on an epic adventure through cosmopolitan cityscapes, traversing the rugged wilderness and mountains, navigating their way through hostile deserts and cruising across the great planes of the USA.

A symbol of a million wild souls, their journey will raise over £10m for human-wildlife coexistence projects across Asia.

And the first stop of their thrilling crusade brings them to Bicester village, Oxford.

Clarence House... the perfect habitat for these glorious elephants at the Animal Ball 2019

The world’s most threatened continent for mammals; Asia

We are living in the age of the Anthropocene; a human-dominated geological epoch where people are the oppressing influence on climate and the environment. We are the cause of the sixth mass extinction.

Across the largest continent on Earth, wildlife live in landscapes saturated and transformed by people. Brimming with the fastest growing human population on our planet; it's a struggle for peaceful coexistence between people and animals in Asia.

From India to Vietnam, roads and railways dissect traditional animal migratory routes and habitats, tea and coffee plantations have overhauled forest habitats and the boundaries between humans and wildlife are becoming blurred.

It is the region where most animal species face impending extinction due to conflict with humans; the area where most people lose their life to encounters with wild animals.

Wildlife is forced to encroach upon human territory as their habitats diminish and their food sources become scarce. From greater one-horned rhinos in Nepal destroying crops, to orangutans in Indonesian oil palm plantations, to elephants raiding subsistence yields throughout rural India and leopards attacking livestock; human-wildlife conflict is prevalent across Asia.

In the last fifty years in Asia, 90% of nature’s natural territory has vanished, leaving wildlife coexisting with humans closer than ever before.

Using an invasive plant to create a powerful message for conservation…

Part of the solution to a peaceful coexistence between people and animals is ensuring wildlife have the right environment to thrive.

But a toxic, invasive weed is suffocating the forests of the world; Lantana camara. First introduced as a decorative garden plant to India by the British in the 19th Century, this native of South America has perilously weaved its way into the world’s top 10 most invasive weeds, conquering forests in Africa, Asia and Australia. Stalling the regeneration of wilderness, it has hijacked 30-40% of South Indian forests, making them a hostile dwelling for wild animals.

The noxious toxins in its leaves make it inedible and due to its allelopathic properties, it emits a nasty chemical which quashes the flourishing of plants, particularly grasses which wild animals depend on.

When cut, it coppices and produces a flurry of ferociously growing shoots that grow six times quicker than the mother plant. Forest departments have been trying to eradicate the lethal plant for over a 100 years, with little success.

But pioneering projects are working to discover the answer by devising ground-breaking solutions which utilise specialist digger machines to dispel the invasive Lantana plant. By eradicating the weed that poses a global threat to biodiversity, the wilderness will be opened up, allowing indigenous fauna and flora to thrive.

By harvesting the long woody stems from the forest, boiling and straightening them, the pliable stalks can be skilfully moulded around metal frames to create delightfully elaborate works of art…

Power to the people

Since the radiant summer heat of 2014, over 70 Adivasi artisans (from the Paniya, Bettakurumba and Soliga communities) are constructing the beautiful behemoths, skilfully bringing the herd to life from real elephants living in their locality. Each elephant is based on a real-life elephant from the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Every contour of their bulging bellies, every notch on their ear has been intricately represented.

Their inherent knowledge of the wild elephants and their exceptional skill with Lantana, breathes life and an unparalleled energy into these stunning creations.

Creating these sculptures has provided alternative livelihoods for the artists and their families. Its allowed women to have a voice, a job, an identity. For equality to meander its way through previously hierarchical societies. Its granted much-needed incomes, enabling children to attend school and food to be put on the table.

And importantly its framed elephants in a positive light to local communities. They are realising the value wild elephants can bring to their lands.

The voyage

And now the herd have travelled deep from the wild jungles of Southern India; they’ve traversed the Arabian Sea, cruised past the South African coast and battled the ferocious waves of the Atlantic, to end up here in the UK, in Bicester village, with a quick trip to the Animal Ball on route.

Their spectacular journey across half the world is to demonstrate the importance of human-wildlife coexistence, not just in India but globally.

Asian elephants share 80% of their range with people, hence these gentle giants are the perfect symbol of people learning to coexist with nature.

Elephants use to roam England about 130,000 years ago. And now they are back! 6 magnificent behemoths have made their entrance to British soil at Oxfordshire’s favourite shopping destination.

Elephants may not be the daintiest or nimble of dancers, but they can sure kick up an awe-inspiring stir which they so graciously did so whilst partying in Prince Charles's garden at the Animal Ball 2019.

The summer of 2020 will see the full herd of 100 migrate to London’s Royal Parks.

From March 2021 they will embark upon the next leg of their extraordinary journey. A fleet of Indian decorate flatbed lorries laden with the magnificent organic elephants will venture from the East to the West coast of the States; appearing in iconic American landscapes and city parks, encouraging a groundswell of support to conserve Asian wildlife.

This will be a grand movement fuelled through adventure, bringing people the power to fashion a future where humans and wildlife can thrive together.