Kate Evans was one of those “precocious” children who knew from a young age what she wanted to do with her life, she tells me as we sit on the terrace of the Address Downtown, looking out over Dubai’s famed dancing fountains. By her own admission, the founder and director of Elephants for Africa, a charity dedicated to the conservation of the world’s largest land mammal, is a long way from her natural habitat.
“I lived all over the world and I got to meet Asian elephants up close and personal,” she tells me of her childhood. “I became fascinated by elephants, but also interested in their journey and how they were often in human care because of a lack of resources or competition for resources, and also the ivory trade.”
Evans did a PhD in the “behavioural ecology and movements” of adolescent male African elephants in Botswana, and went on to found Elephants for Africa. The charity’s primary focus is on partnering with rural communities in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans, to facilitate conflict-free human-elephant coexistence.
After the poaching crisis, competition with humans for natural resources is one of the greatest threats to elephant populations, Evans explains. “As soon as we stop the poaching crisis, which I have to believe we can, then the biggest threat is competition for resources. And that threat is only going to increase as we face global warming, increased human populations, and a lack of shared resources between humans and wildlife.
“If you engage with communities and enable them to benefit from their wildlife, and they are able to take ownership and benefit from it, then you’ve got the first barrier of defense against the illegal wildlife trade. Because these communities can choose whether to turn a blind eye, or indeed get involved, or they can choose to speak up and say: ‘Not on our land; this is our wildlife.’ And that’s what we are trying to build, this ownership of and pride in wildlife.”
The organisation holds workshops with local farmers, to teach them how to deter elephants from their land (one simple solution is burning chilli, Evans reveals). It also provides the necessary materials to help implement these measures, while advising on agricultural methods that will help farmers improve the yields of their crops.
Meanwhile, "living with" workshops provide schoolchildren and the wider community with essential information about elephant behaviour, offering potentially life-saving answers to fundamental questions such as: when is it safest to fetch water from the river?; how do I know if an elephant is angry; and what should I do if I come across an elephant when walking? By partnering with Environmental Clubs in local primary schools, Elephants for Africa is able to further educate young people about the wildlife around them.
“We have designated protected areas for wildlife and now, the wildlife, particularly in Botswana, is saying: ‘Actually, this doesn’t meet our needs. We need to use your land, as was historic.’ So we need to be thinking about wildlife corridors, protected areas, and we need to understand what elephants might need in the future, and what humans might need,” says Evans.
"It's building that landscape and system where elephants have a space, humans have a space and humans also have the necessary knowledge to communicate to elephants that this is not where you want to be, in non-aggressive means."
It was the educational element of Elephants for Africa’s mandate that caught the attention of German fashion brand Hugo Boss. The company’s CSR efforts focus on supporting educational initiatives around the world, in alignment with the fourth United Nations Sustainable Development Goal.
For its latest capsule collection, Boss collaborated with the historic porcelain manufacturer Meissen, which has been mastering its craft since 1710. One of Meissen’s most recent (and most eye-catching) collections, Big Five, features the African elephant, lion, leopard, rhinoceros and buffalo, rendered in stark white porcelain with a distinctive tribal-style monochrome pattern highlighting the animals’ most defining characteristics – the lion’s mane, the buffalo’s horns, the elephant’s ears and face, and so on.
These figurines acted as the inspiration for the Boss x Meissen capsule collection, which made its global debut in Dubai and is available now in-store. The animal motifs are reproduced in embroidered, jacquard and printed form, set on cashmere, silk and leather, on T-shirts, ties, shirts, shoes and bags.
To celebrate the theme of the collaboration, Hugo Boss has committed to supporting Elephants for Africa, although it has not disclosed details about the size or terms of its contribution. “Hugo Boss is a huge brand, with a huge market that I think is becoming increasingly interested in where their high-brand clothing is coming from,” notes Evans.
“There is a huge opportunity for us, as a small charity, to really speak to the international community. The solution for elephant conservation is a global solution – we need global buy-in; we need people to step up and make everyday changes, so that the world is still going to be a nice place to inhabit in 50 or 100 years.”
To help support Elephants for Africa, visit www.globalgiving.org/projects/empowering-communities-to-coexist-with-wildlife-in