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Camilla’s very personal patronage: the story of Elephant Family

“The dedicated efforts of Elephant Family are helping to highlight and resolve the issues faced by Asia’s vulnerable elephants. Not only are these magnificent animals trapped in a daily battle for food, water and space with an ever-expanding human population, but they also face the increasing threat of being killed for their skin to supply a growing illegal market.

Elephant Family’s work is helping to secure a long-term future not just for Asia’s elephants, but for the wider biodiversity of Asia’s forests and wild landscapes which are vital to the survival of us all.”

– Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall
Joint Royal Presidents, Elephant Family

When the Duchess of Cornwall’s late brother, Mark Shand, met an elephant called Tara, little did he know it would change the course of his life. His journey across India with Tara is chronicled in the book Travels On My Elephant, which won him British Travel Writer of the Year, but it’s the charity Elephant Family that is Shand’s greatest legacy.

Inspired by Tara, Shand joined with four conservationist friends (Dugal Muller, Robin Russell, Caroline Casey, and Nicholas Claxton) and set out in 2002 to raise awareness for the plight of the endangered Asian elephant. Elephant Family was born to try to change the dire situation these animals were in, and Shand dedicated the last 27 years of his life to saving the Asian elephant.

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In the afterword of Travels On My Elephant, Shand writes:

“Ninety per cent of the Asian elephant population had been wiped out in the previous hundred years. Ninety-five per cent of their forest homes had been destroyed to make way for plantations, farms, mines, roads, railways and villages…. The last remaining elephants were forced into tiny pockets of forest where they were competing with their human neighbours for food, water and space…. In India alone, a person kills an elephant, and an elephant kills a person every single day of the year…. Elephant Family is dedicated to ending this daily battle.”

Whilst one of the main goals of the charity focuses on raising awareness for the Asian elephant, they work tirelessly on campaigning to change government and corporate policy, as well as to carry out conservation projects.

Shand was instrumental in pulling together major fundraisers for Elephant Family, raising millions at events such as the Elephant Durbar at the Petersham Nurseries in 2006, London’s Elephant Parade in 2010, and Jungle City in Edinburgh in 2011. Elephant Family also received massive press from the Fabergé Big Egg Hunt in London in 2012, and in New York in 2014, when oversized fibreglass eggs were hidden around the respective cities and decorated by world-renowned artists and designers.

A Sotheby’s auction of the eggs in New York, which took place the night of Shand’s sudden and tragic death, raised more than a million dollars for the charity.

Since Shand’s passing in 2014, his sister, the Duchess of Cornwall, along with her husband, the Prince of Wales, have stepped up to become co-presidents of Elephant Family. The Duchess, inspired to carry on her brother’s life work, has launched events such as last year’s Concours d’elephant, a cavalcade of traditional Indian vehicles which toured London to raise awareness for the organisation.

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On 13 June, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will host The Animal Ball at Lancaster House. The glamorous charity ball will raise money for conservation projects in Asia and “inspired by Truman Capote’s Black and White Dance of 1966, this year will see twenty-six of the world’s greatest fashion houses – Prada, Missoni, Chloe, Temperley, Sabyasachi amongst others – dress a bestiary of beautiful creatures from all corners of British society in bespoke couture animal-themed masks,” according to the event’s website.

Although Shand’s death was a massive loss for the charity, Elephant Family continues to flourish. The charity has supported 200 field projects in recent years, including in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Cambodia. A recent victory occurred after lobbying from Elephant Family and other organisations: the UK passed a law making it illegal to buy or sell items made from ivory, regardless of antiquity.

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About author

Kristin is Chief Reporter for Royal Central and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.