Dutch national Mike Spits is on a mission to save the Asian elephant, and he’s doing it one brightly painted pachyderm at a time.
Spits and his father, Marc, launched Elephant Parade eight years ago to bring attention to and raise much-needed funds for elephant conservation. The project works like this: life-size fibreglass baby elephants are painted and decorated, exhibited around the world, then sold to the highest bidder. The funds go to The Asian Elephant Foundation, which distributes the money to various organisations dedicated to saving Asian elephants from extinction.
|A little girl meets Rainbow Fish by Noppawan Nuansiri. Pic: Elephant Parade
Artists and celebrities are clamouring to be involved, with elephant statues already painted by famous faces including Katy Perry, Liz Hurley, Diane von Furstenberg and Formula One driver Felipe Massa. Thai and international artists have also taken part, adding their own personal stamp to the cleanskin sculptures. Swedish artist Jens Klelund went a step beyond the extraordinary: he sculpted a solid marble elephant from a block of Carrara marble. It weighed in at 2,300 kilograms!
|Artist Chris Chun with Kiku. Pic: Elephant Parade
|Navratna by Michael-Birch Pic: Elephant Parade
Once painted, the eles go on tour around the world, displayed so far in nine countries including the US, Hong Kong, Singapore and Belgium. Open-air art installations of the brightly painted elephants attract thousands of onlookers. The colourful statues can fetch a hefty price: the most expensive auctioned was by Jack Vettriano, selling for 155,000GBP at the Elephant Parade London auction.
Spits says he and his father first became concerned about the plight of Asian elephants during a holiday in Chiang Mai. They met baby Mosha, who had lost her leg after stepping on a landmine. With help from the foundation, Mosha received a prosthetic leg and continued support over the years.
|Mosha, the inspiration behind Elephant Parade. Pic: Julie Miller
Chiang Mai is still central to the Elephant Parade story. The first flagship Elephant Parade House is there, with life-size statues on display and merchandise for sale. Visitors have the opportunity to paint their own mini replica elephant and learn more about the cause.
|A basketful of mini-Kikus. Pic: Chris Chun
A day trip to the Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital is also recommended, where it is possible to meet Mosha as well as other elephants who have been rescued from often appalling conditions, rehabilitated and loved back to wellbeing by dedicated Thai caretakers. For animal lovers from around the world, it is guaranteed to be an experience that will stick long after returning home.
Elephant Parade House is located at:
Colour Factory One
145-156 Charoenrajd Rd
For more information, visit elephantparade.com