Inside the Ongoing Fight to Save the African Elephants

elephants marching across the plains by Susan Sargent

My body of work is primarily inspired by the wonders of the natural world. My style cuts in close, representing the rare moments of connection -- often-literal eye contact -- between man and mega-fauna.

The key word here, sadly, is "rare." The serene moments so succinctly captured in My African Wild Life series represent a species that is rapidly disappearing from the earth. And when mankind does come across African elephants in their native spaces, too often the encounters look nothing like these tranquil portraits.

Now, more than ever, African elephants need our help. As one segment of humanity destroys their habitat, another side of our species must step in and join the fight to save the African Elephants

The State of African Elephants in 2016

Over the past century, the African elephant population shrunk by about 90 percent, almost entirely due to elephant poaching. And elephant poaching is almost entirely tied to one industry: the ivory trade. For many westerners, ivory is a relic of the past, illegal and not particularly useful besides, but the post-aughts Chinese economic boom as actually increased demand dramatically in recent years.

This leads to around 30,000 African elephants killed by poachers every single year. So in 2016, rather than showing major progress in this area, elephants are in greater danger than ever before. In fact, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that 2016 marks the worst African elephant losses in 25 years.

Who is Helping?

The news isn't all grim. As bad as the above data is, those numbers are directly affected by the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, organizations, and benefactors to the cause.

    • The aforementioned IUCN is a worldwide environmental network that tracks at-risk species and other aspects of natural conservation, and leverages that to open lines of communication between member entities. This unique membership union represents a cross-section of scientists, activists, government organizations, and benefactors. With the current alarming decrease in African elephant populations, IUCN is instrumental in establishing local conservation efforts to save the species with the help of international interests.
    • The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) helps African elephants with the most hands-on approach of any of the organizations here. WCS staff directly patrol cordoned-off conservation spaces, physically stopping poachers in the act and maintaining the overall safety of the animals on the preserved land. Modern poaching involves helicopters, AK47s, high-powered scoped rifles, and many other modern nightmares, and these are the people who take that head on.

What Can I Do to Help?

Donate. The above organizations, as well as many others, need as much help as they can get. Collecting data, government lobbying, keeping poachers out of elephants' habitat, all of these crucial activities are dependent on charitable contributions.

But even beyond that, it's important to simply talk about African elephants. Think about them. Don't forget them. My paintings aren't just about aesthetics. They represent the spark of life within fellow living creatures. Their soulful eyes reach out to the viewer.

I try to show elephants at their best. They're happily walking in groups, walking across a pristine plain. They're doing the things elephants should always be doing, yet outside of these snapshots, often aren't. To the informed viewer, these paintings serve as a call to action: this is what we need to strive to preserve. See my watercolor painting on African Elephants here:

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