A giant tribute

“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?”
Sir David Attenborough

“If the health of the planet depends on the tropical forests, and the health of those forests depends on the seed-dispersing animals, clearly climate funds must be used to protect those animals. If we value the forest, we must protect the gardeners of the forest.”
Ian Redmond, OBE

“A world without elephants would be no world for me. It must not happen on our watch.”
Will Travers OBE, President, Born Free Foundation

“If there ever was a time when we took elephants for granted, one thing is certain. That time has gone forever.”
Virginia McKenna,  Founder, Born Free Foundation

“I believe we can change the minds of people and stop the trade, but it is going to take more work, more action and more support to create a world where elephants can be safe.”
Cynthia Moss, Director, Amboseli Trust for Elephants

The idea was a simple but ambitious one. Gather the support of the world’s best wildlife photographers to donate a beautiful image each for a book on elephants and sell it to raise awareness about and money to fight poaching.

Remembering Elephants (Envisage Books) is the culmination of that vision by British wildlife photographer Margot Raggett. It includes images by eight former overall winners of ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ and many of the world’s top wildlife photographers have contributed – from Art Wolfe to Frans Lanting, Jonathan Scott to Michael Poliza.

Two events were the catalyst for Raggett to start the campaign, a TV interview by conservationist Jane Goodall and seeing a young elephant bull that had been killed by a poisoned arrow in northern Kenya. “They both happened around the same time,” she remembers. “I remember Jane Goodall explaining that with 400,000 elephants left and around 30-40,000 being killed each year, the maths was that they could be gone within a decade,” recalls Raggett. “I was shocked.” When weeks later on safari she came across an elephant that had been killed hours earlier, she was galvanised into action, no longer prepared to just sit on the sidelines and moan.

There were two early breakthroughs in guaranteeing the success of the project. The first was agreeing to partner with the Born Free Foundation and the second was the appointment of former Wild Planet Photo magazine editor Keith Wilson as editor of the book. Raggett then started approaching photographers.

“Having been working part-time as a wildlife photographer in Kenya for the past couple of years I’d started to build up my network of fellow photographers and it was those I counted as friends who I approached first. The idea was to get 50 big ‘names’ whose fan base would guarantee an audience for the book and at first that seemed an awful lot of photographers to get,” she explains. “The very first photographer who said yes to me was Angela Scott. As a big admirer of her and her husband Jonathan’s photography and conservation work I was thrilled to get their backing and encouragement.” Next came Federico Veronesi, David Lloyd, Will Burrard-Lucas and Shem Compion. “Shem was a great help, pulling in some famous photographers like Art Wolfe, Frans Lanting and Greg du Toit.”

Once the big names had signed up, getting the rest became much easier and the next task, getting funding to print the book when it was ready, became the priority. “I’d watched with interest earlier that year when wildlife photographer David Lloyd had successfully used crowd-funding website Kickstarter to fund his beautiful book As Long As There Are Animals and quickly realised we could use the same model for ours. And with 50 photographers on board who each had a big social media following, I was able to pull upon their networks to spread the word when our campaign went live.”

The book was named Remembering Elephants, a title that caused a bit of deliberate controversy. “The meaning was two-fold,” explains Raggett. “Firstly, of course, we need to remember elephants right now. But secondly, and heaven forbid if this were to pass, if Jane Goodall’s dire prediction were to come true, this would be a tribute to how elephants were, in the wild, for future generations to see. I wanted to stun people into realising the gravity of the situation.”

A cover was designed using an image by wildlife photographer Federico Veronesi and the Kickstarter campaign went live at 9am on 25 August 2015. The target amount to raise (to print 1000 copies) was £20,000 and there were just 30 days to collect that amount or the book would never happen.

“By 4pm that day we’d raised around £12,000 and while I was thrilled at that amount, I was thinking another £8000 was an awfully long way to go,” remembers Raggett. “And then Born Free sent out an email to their database of elephant lovers about the project and support started flooding in, the campaign had clearly touched a nerve. I was getting an alert on my phone every time a donation came in and I was watching the total ticking up like a fruit machine. In the end I went and got a glass of wine and watched it until we hit the £20,000 at just after 8pm.”

In the end the campaign raised a total of £58,000, meaning that 2600 books will now be printed, with all proceeds of those sales going to the Born Free Foundation to spend on anti-poaching activity. The expectation now is for that to be more than £100,000.

The next landmark for the campaign was securing sponsorship by Land Rover, meaning the team had the funds to create a London exhibition to accompany the launch. “Land Rover is a long-standing partner of Born Free and seemed an ideal fit for the project, so I always knew I wanted to approach them. Happily they loved the idea and I’m now working closely with them to help ensure the success of the project.”

There was then a competition for a further 10 images in the book and the final line-up for the book of an eventual 65 photographers was finalised. Editorial contributions were secured by leading conservationists and those in the field of elephant protection, including Ian Redmond OBE and Cynthia Moss.

The finished book will be published on 19 September and those who have seen an advanced copy have been impressed by the quality of the images and production. “I was particularly thrilled by the response by contributor and UK wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham when I sent him a copy,” says Raggett. “He wrote ‘Wow! Fantastic! What an amazing collection of images and a beautifully composed book.’ I couldn’t ask for more than that from someone I respect so much.”

The Remembering Elephants free exhibition, sponsored by Land Rover, will be held at La Galleria, Pall Mall (5b, Royal Opera Arcade, 30 Pall Mall, London SW1Y 4UY) from 19 September to 1 October 2016. All of the prints in the exhibition will be on sale, as well as copies of the Remembering Elephants book, with all proceeds going to fight elephant poaching. There will also be a launch event at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in London on the evening of Thursday 22 September featuring talks by conservationist Ian Redmond OBE and world-famous wildlife photographer Art Wolfe. Tickets for that event and also the book itself can be ordered by going to www.rememberingelephants.com.