A Win for the Niassa Carnivore Project

Record memo November 13 –  The lions “In our Presence” found a new home. Gifted to a couple in Vancouver, Washington in exchange for an $850 donation to the Wildlife Conservation Network in San Francisco. 100% of their contribution will go to the Niassa Carnivore Project to help support the work and lifelong efforts of Dr. Colleen Begg and her family in Mozambique. Hooray!

In our presence, acrylic by Gary Watson, Original GIFTED, November 2016.

World Elephant Day, August 12, 2016

August 12, 2016 – World Elephant Day — I have a dream, a dream of a new beginning. A dream where lions, giraffes and elephants are. A dream of wild comfort and of human comfort with wildness. Where all living things are able to share space in the splendor of earth.  I will bask in the thought that such a dream might come true.

Tomorrow I will remember again what we humans have done over 10,000 years and wonder if we have, in fact, entered into an era of unprecedented extinction that we alone are accountable for—where one in eight species of birds, one in three of amphibians, and one in four of mammals have been condemned irretrievably. Time beyond tomorrow is for assessing how the demands of modern life allow us to forget one simple truth: we rely on natural ecosystems as much as any other species. The aura of our human technology is seductive. We are lured into believing we have mastered the environment we inhabit. But nothing could be further from the truth.

However,  today I will allow myself to dream and relish in the good news that individuals, scientists, conservation organizations, and governments are uniting behind a strategy for stopping the killing of elephants. In so doing, I magically declare World Elephant Day to be a day when no one will be allowed to give up on elephants or kill one. I will choose to ignore what I’ve learned. Instead I will pretend broad public support for those dedicated few who are committed by evidence of their actions to the idea that all life matters. And on this day I won’t allow anyone to give up on elephants or to be passive about their extinction. The temptation to ignore the challenges or to conclude Africa is a quagmire that sucks money, time, and resources dry will be removed from human consciousness.

August 12 is a day for the well intended to dramatize the shameful plight of elephants, but for me today is just for dreaming. A pretend day. A day when elephants matter the most. Perhaps today might become a portal in time, a new beginning for these humble, compassionate creatures if we choose to make it so. When you dream, all things are possible. No matter who you are, your circumstances, or how angry you are at the overwhelming forces changing our world each minute of every day,  all can pretend elephants matter, not only because of their ecological importance, their aesthetic beauty and power, and their value to developing economies but because their very existence symbolizes stability, security, and the triumph of good governance and the rule of law.

Am I safe here? Elephant in Green Grass, acrylic by Gary Watson, Original SOLD.

And no matter what happens today I will dream and borrow from Martin Luther King, “that one day the earth shall be exhalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight,” and I will boldly add that all living things shall see it together.

So yes, I have a dream. An inclusive one that values the urgency of the moment. One where those that are now content but have the power to intervene will have a rude awakening if the world tomorrow returns to business as usual. And I think it’s true to say my dream is rooted in a dream many Americans share; that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed and expand its reach to say: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all living things–not just humans– are of equal value.

Let the trumpeting of elephants blare from the snowcaps of Kilimanjaro to the plains of the Serengeti. Let the sound of wildness ring across all continents big and small. Let the screams be heard that all life, not just human life, matters.

On August 12 I will lose all fear that my dream is but a child’s dream or a misplaced fantasy, something worthy of the likes of Don Quixote. I will do so because living has taught me otherwise; that a child lives in all of us though sometimes disguised in a manner that requires the rest of our life to discover. And when this happens, and when we allow wildness to be, and when we hear its noise in every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, and every nation we will be able to speed up that day when we will all truly be like  Mother Nature’s children. That is my hope. Please, share  in my dream.

Elephants are Democrats

In case you’re wondering, the elephants  I love  are democrats. The Republican trademark is specific. It’s stylized, it’s blue and red, it has three stars across its back that are tilted. The elephants that inspire the art of the artists contributing to Art for the Life of Elephants are not stylized. They’re wrinkled and gray and dirtied brown by the mud of the good earth. They’re real.

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As are their voices. The sounds they make are not filled with hateful rhetoric, doom and gloom. They migrate along paths established over the millennia. Their habits are value based and their culture is inclusive, one led and shaped by matriarchs. They don’t carry any baggage, everything they need is in their trunks. It’s in their nature to migrate throughout the vast spaces of what was once a wild Africa. They do so without security checks. Elephants are not aggressive, though protective. They avoid enemies, suffer the impacts of global climate change and create large ecosystems where other living things can survive. They do all this without weapons. They share. Instinctively, they know all life matters, yet they suffer as evidenced by the fact that four are killed each hour of every day. A systemic hatred living inside the hearts of some humans is the cause; a hatred fueled by ignorance and bigotry and by the uniquely human capacity to kill for no other reason than to destroy life out of greed and a sense the world is dark and bleak and unwelcoming.
I wish they could vote. Now. In the United States. The world would be a better place.

Art for the Niassa Lion Project

“In our Presence” —  A signed,  limited edition Giclée print of this original acrylic by Gary Watson  is now available as a gift to the first verified US donor to make at least $500 directly online to the Wildlife Conservation Network in San Francisco in support of the Niassa Lion Project – NLP between June 21 and July 15. (see below for detailed instruction). Framed with conservation glass and printed on acid-free watercolor paper, this ready-to-hang piece attempts to capture something the NLP project leader, Dr. Colleen Begg, journaled about the privilege of being allowed into an animal’s world:

“My head knows the theory and the reasons why conservation is important, food webs, umbrella species, cascading effects when species are lost. The numbers, the declines, the challenges. I know my time is best spent training  and mentoring not doing it myself,  finding funds, writing reports and analyzing data. But my heart is a different beast and beats erratically. My heart needs a personal relationship with animals to keep going and believing in conservation. My heart needs time, quiet in the bush, alone or with K (her husband Keith) just watching and sometimes getting the ultimate privilege for being allowed into an animal’s world, just briefly.”

In our presence, acrylic by Gary Watson, Original GIFTED, November 2016. Limited Edition Prints Available.

The amount of $500 is not accidental. NLP works by teaching local children about the importance of conserving wildlife in ways they can understand. It costs about $500 per year to help one child attend their school for an entire year. ALE makes sustaining monthly donations to this cause. Dr. Begg, from South Africa, has been working in Mozambique for more than a decade.

For more specific information in regard to this pledge and making your contribution please contact the artist directly at gary@art4elephants.org. Shipping within the US is free. 100% of the donated amount will go directly to the NLP project and is tax deductible. None of the money contributed to this cause is used to offset the material costs or expenses associated with the art gifted by Art for the Life of Elephants.

What Americans give to.

2015 – Americans gave $373 billion to charity, an increase of 4% over 2014. Top categories: (1) religion = 32% (tithes every week), (2) Education = 15%, (3) Human Services = 12%. (4) Grant making foundations !11%), and Health (8%). What’s troubling to us? THE ENVIRONMENT AND WILDLIFE received about $10B in 2014 (about 3% of $358 Billion) — and, only 3% of that went causes outside the US. While we don’t have numbers for 2015 yet, our hope is that GIVING in this category improved.

Pope Francis:

“First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.”

We can only wonder how Pope Francis might have re-arranged the allocation of funds from our charitable giving in America. The facts are clear, however:  the general public in the wealthiest nation in the world is struggling to make a connection between their wallets or their time to the value placed on the environment around them.  This strikes us as ironic. When asked in a Stanford poll to name the most serious problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it, 25% of all Americans mentioned either global warming or the environment. Terrorism was mentioned by only 10 percent of respondents.

It is not until the well runs dry that we know the worth of water.
– Benjamin Franklin

American Giving.
American Giving.

ALE is one year old!

Happy Birthday! It’s been a year and we’re more than 4000 strong!  A year ago Art for the Life of Elephants (ALE) launched — Art4elephants.org on the web and Art for Life of Elephants on Facebook. Our advocacy and outreach effort started with an ink and watercolor sketch of Mara, our logo elephant, and the launch of the book that inspired her (amazon.com/author/garywatson). So what’s ALE learned?  PEOPLE DO CARE. Our FB following expanded from barely 40 to 4000 in the last 11 months. And Mara is happy about that! Our goal is to increase our following to over 10,000 by June 2017. In May our post reach remained steady and healthy at more than 15,000. About 625 people on average see each new post.  And what’s been accomplished? Stay tuned for some interesting and hopefully provocative posts on both subjects … what we’ve learned … and what’s been accomplished. ln the meantime, we’re grateful. Thank you!

Mara the Elephant
Help me

A word about helping.

Helping those who help. On Monday April 11, we introduced Dr. Colleen Begg to our ALE followers as someone we found inspiring.  Then, on  April 27, I made a post on this website about the Niassa Lion Project. Today, Deborah and I would like to share something else – a pair of recent email exchanges with Dr. Begg. While regarded as private, we think these particular messages provide insight into the kind of people who need our support and how the collective impact of a lot of small donors matter to conservation around the globe. By selecting the link referenced in Colleen’s email – Niassa Carnivore Project 2015 Report – much more information is available.

From ALE to Dr. Begg on May 9:

Hi Colleen: My wife, Deborah, and I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Expo on April 2 in San Francisco, and listening to your update on the Niassa Reserve and the Niassa Lion Project. We founded a local, grassroots organization in the state of Washington in June 2015 called Art for the Life of Elephants. Information about us is available on our website at www.timesharegive.com and our FB page, Art for the Life of Elephants. During our first six months we  focused our support advocacy on the WCN in general and the Elephant Crisis Fund in particular.

One of the most important reasons for beginning a grassroots effort to connect small donors to the WCN is that the WCN must understandably focus on the BIG MONEY for all the reasons discussed in Jeremy Hance’s Conservation, Divided Series. We believe that is very important (especially now) but misses an audience essential to the success of wildlife and habitat conservation—the average citizen who would like to become involved, needs to be involved but feels intimidated by the dominance of BIG MONEY in everything. Our experience is that many people who care deeply about what’s happening to wild spaces feel dis-empowered to do anything about it. People whose voices are small until they become collective. We believe art is one way to help cross that bridge. Hence, Art for the Life of Elephants. Like you, we believe communities of people and what they think and do for each other in their shared space is important.

I can’t begin to explain how much we admire you and what you are trying to accomplish. In spite of the fact that we must keep our focus on the Crisis Fund near term, we wanted to contribute to your Lion Scholarship Fund. This month we began by making sustained monthly contributions to the Niassa Lion Project.  We are beginning to share information about your community based methodology and explaining how $500 a year can make such a difference to a lion scholar. It’s a small amount but it’s a start. Also, several art pieces are in the works now by artists willing to give their time and art in exchange for donations to the Niassa Lion Project. I hope you will choose to stay connected to us continue to provide updates on what’s happening throughout the Niassa Reserve.
– Our best wishes for your continued success, Gary and Deborah Watson.
On May 19, Colleen wrote back:
Gary and Deborah,
Great to hear from you again and thank you so much for your support of NLP and WCN. I absolutely agree with your philosophy – we have a large budget but we are a small organisation and much of our funding comes in from small individual donations. A basic salary in one month for a scout is US$250-300 / month and as you know only $500 a year for a child scholarship.  All small donations quickly add up and help us keep in the field. We have  more than 350 donors at present.  If we had just 100 people who made a $50 contribution each month, that is a major donation over the course of the year. So thank you.
I have attached here our 2015 Annual report and 2016 workplan. We are still completing our financial report as our local bookkeeper has just been away fro a three month course in Maputo and we need him to be part of it as part of his mentorship and training. I know these reports are long but we feel details are important to honour the donations and show how it fits together. It also helps all of us know where we are as sometimes people get lost in their own programs and forget the bigger pictures.
Thank you again, Colleen.
Here’s a glimpse inside the head and heart of someone like Colleen:  

“My head knows the theory and the reasons why conservation is important, food webs, umbrella species, cascading effects when species are lost. The numbers, the declines, the challenges. I know my time is best spent time training  and mentoring not doing it myself,  finding funds, writing reports and analyzing data. But my heart is a different beast and beats erratically. My heart needs a personal relationship with animals to keep going and believing in conservation. My heart needs time, quiet in the bush, alone or with K (her husband Keith) just watching and sometimes getting the ultimate privilege for being allowed into an animal’s world, just briefly.”

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US National Strategy for the Protection of all Wildlife.

President Obama: The entire world has a stake in protecting the world’s iconic animals, and the United States is strongly committed to meeting its obligation to help preserve the earth’s natural beauty for future generations.

Secretary of State Kerry: The Crush on Wildlife: Our governments and citizens cannot afford to stand idle while poachers and wildlife traffickers destabilize whole regions, undermine economic development, and hunt elephants, rhinos, tigers, bears, sharks, or any species to extinction. Leaders everywhere must step up and meet the challenge of rooting out the corruption, graft, and complicity in the system that threaten all of us. The United States is committed to doing our part.  But make no mistake: The world needs to do more. Time is not on our side. Let’s move forward.

Did you know? – July 1, 2013:  President Obama directed by Executive Order the United States Government to better organize its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. Did you know that the order created a task force, co-chaired by the Secretaries of State (now John Kerry) and the Interior and the Attorney General and comprising 17 federal departments and agencies in all? Did you realize there is a national strategy  for protecting wildlife around the globe? Did you realize they meet regularly to strategically implement the National Strategy? — that it has three strategic priorities: (1) strengthening domestic and global law enforcement; (2) reducing the demand for illegally traded wildlife; and (3) expanding international cooperation and commitment? Did you know the task force is suppose to work closely with Congress in a transparent and accountable manner?

Several questions come to mind: 1) How much does the US government spend outside its own borders to put meat on the bones of this strategy? 2) Do we have global partners and what are their commitments? 3) Does the strategy imply that we are willing to intervene wherever necessary to help to counter extinction threats and vital habitat loss that all life is connected to? 4) How many of the countries where repeated violations on national preserves, parks and world heritage sites occur are on the verge of becoming failed states? 5) Does the right to environment, articulated clearly by Pope Francis at the UN last year, mean that any sovereignty right is conditional and based a state’s inherent ability and willingness to protect environments within their governing domain?  6) Why aren’t wildlife extinction threats and our countermeasures part of broader national dialogue? 6) Why isn’t progress or the lack of it  transparent to the public?  7) How much are we spending in relation to others in the global community of nations? 8) Is there  is plan B?

One world, many environments
One world, many environments

 

 

 

April 30 … Lest we forget.

‘Lest we forget’ … on April 30 the international press will descend on Nairobi, Kenya. The Ivory Burn is about to happen and for days the internet has been full of pictures of the pyres being built, conservationists having their pictures taken with tusks, and heart-felt video pleas. Lest we forget all the elephants the world has lost to poaching. Lest we forget the lives behind the ten thousand tusks to be burned.

IMAGINE a procession of elephants, trunk to tail, over 30 miles long. A procession of migrating elephants that would have carried the largest mammals remaining on earth. Lest we forget what species killed these gentle creatures.

Guardian photo by Andrew Harnik/AP
Guardian photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

The scent of ivory burning.

April 30, 2016 … a day for trumpeting? The air will fill with the scent of burning ivory. President Kenyatta is about to torch about 105 tons of ceased illegal ivory captured from poachers or seized in transit. It will happen in Nairobi National Park, in Kenya. This article in the Guardian is a response to some unnamed commentators and experts that have condemned it for one reason for another. While ALE doesn’t condemn it, I think it is a waste of an opportunity to pay homage to elephants.

Guardian photo by Andrew Harnik/AP
Guardian photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Will elephants smell the burn? I think not. Will the souls of these magnificent creatures rise and trumpet? I think not. Wouldn’t it make more sense for this day to celebrate the dedication of memorial museum and education center to honor all wildlife? A place where people from around the world could donate their legally acquired ivory art – yes those hidden treasures — to honor the material transformed and the mammals killed to source it.
There are two points in this news article that give me hope.
The first: “Last year, we took Nairobi school children from the slums of Kibera on a visit to Amboseli National Park. The joy on their faces as they watched wild elephants in their natural habitat was beyond price.”
The second: “As part of this effort, the Kenyan and U.S. governments, conservation experts, media representatives, and wildlife supporters from around the world will come together on Saturday, April 23, 2016 in a prelude to the ivory burn to discuss wildlife issues and commit to saving the world’s elephants and rhinos.”
April 30 could make trumpets sound. I only wish.