In This Issue

Making A Difference

Monday, August 3, 2015

When I meet Lexi Bowes-Lyon for a coffee at Sant Ambroeus in the West Village, she looks relaxed and at ease with herself. Wearing a navy sweater, and with her long dark hair pulled back, she looks fresh and much younger than her 29 years. But despite her casual demeanor the work that she is doing is anything but. Lexi is the new creative director and driving force behind the Elephant Family USA, a British charity dedicated to protecting Asian elephants and securing their habitat.

“The elephant is the flagship species for entire habitats in both Asia and Africa. Many people think that saving a specific species is a fruitless effort, one that we will evidently not win. However, what they do not understand is that this is part of the bigger picture involving mankind and every other animal, as well as conserving our forests and jungles,” Lexi explains. “Also, the big issue that is not very well known is that the money gained from illegal ivory trade goes to fund terrorism around the world,” she adds.

In 2014 Lexi met Mark Shand, a devoted conservationist and one of the founders of the Elephant Family. In 1988, an avid adventurer, Mark bought and saved a captive elephant while traveling in India. After naming her Tara, he rode her across India, a trip and an experience that changed him and made him dedicate his life to saving elephants across Asia. A few years later, in September 2000 a charity was born in London under the patronage of the Rajmata of Jaipur and Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, with Mark Shand as one of the founders. Drawn in by Mark’s enthusiasm and the important work the charity was doing, Lexi decided to work with the Elephant Family. “His willpower was incontestable,” she says. “He adopted Churchill’s mantra, ‘Never, never, never, give up,’ and it spurred all those who worked alongside him to make the impossible happen.”

In 2014 Elephant Family arrived in New York with its first large-scale project, which took over the city. The Fabergé Easter Egg Hunt showcased eggs designed by artists such as Julian Schnabel, Ralph Lauren, Ursula Von Rydingsvard and Peter Beard, among many others, pieces that were displayed all over the city and later auctioned off at Sotheby’s. This ambitious project went on to raise $2.9 million for the charity. Sadly, shortly after the event, Mark Shand died unexpectedly from a head injury after a fall while celebrating the success of the auction. Having been with him until the end, Lexi was driven to go on with the important work that the charity is doing and continuing the fight that Mark started. “Mark had the biggest heart, and he very much lived life to the fullest. He did what needed to be done with infectious charisma and charm, something that you rarely see today. Everything was an adventure, including elephants, and a world without them was unthinkable for him,” she says.

Now, more than a year later, a new and exciting project is in the works. The Elephant Family has joined forces with Space for Giants, a direct field project of Tusk. a conservation charity headed by HRH the Duke of Cambridge. It supports several different field projects in eighteen African countries that not only work to protect wildlife, but also help alleviate poverty through sustainable development and education among rural communities who live alongside the wildlife.

The two charities are putting together a high-level auction at Sotheby’s in New York City on October 27, hosted by Owen Wilson. The auction will be preceded by a noteworthy exhibition and celebration a few days prior to the event. Some of the top contemporary artists, such as Albert Oehlen, Ernesto Neto, David Yarrow and Tracey Emin,  are generously donating some of their signature works to raise funds to save both Asian and African elephants from the various issues these animals face on both continents.

The work that she is doing for the charity combines Lexi’s two lifelong passions: animals and art. From an early age, while growing up in rural Scotland on her family’s estate, she developed a love of the land, as well as a connection with both animals and nature. “Having had a deep connection with animals throughout my upbringing, it propelled me to care strongly about their welfare and about nature in general,” she says. “And having been brought up for the first part of my life primarily in Scotland, I was surrounded by nature and animals. This was perhaps something that I took for granted at the time, but I now realize that it has profoundly influenced my life,” she adds. Another one of the early influences and inspirations was her mother’s family’s works of art: the famous Bridgewater collection of old masters, which currently belongs to her uncle, the Duke of Sutherland.

With fall just around the corner, Lexi and her team are already thinking ahead to their next project, coming up with fresh ideas and inventing new ways to bring awareness to the charity and the cause she deeply cares about. For now, who knows where the new adventures may take her, but the objective is always the same: Elephants, nature and conservation remain an unwavering goal.

“The elephant is an iconic animal, and by protecting it we protect all animals that share their world,” she says.


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