Ladies and gentlemen, despite all the last minute changes which have been forced on the Elephant Family, I am so delighted to welcome you all to ‘A Starry Night in the Nilgiri Hills’, which celebrates the extraordinary impact the 100 strong herd have had on London these past few weeks as you have probably noticed. I certainly hope you have all had a chance to see the elephants in London’s Royal Parks and that you enjoyed the wonderful film we have just seen, which reminds us what we have to do now in order to live more in harmony with the rest of the world. I understand this was created and produced entirely in lockdown by the BBC Natural History unit in Bristol.
The CoExistence campaign is, of course, a response to the increasing overlap between the human and animal world that is, in part, responsible for the spread of deadly zoonotic diseases. The last year has shown us, more than ever, the importance of dealing with issues like this and I have been particularly pleased to see two organisations that are so important to me, the British Asian Trust and Elephant Family, merge together to make this campaign and exhibition happen.
Their aim is to raise awareness and funds to make sure humans and wildlife can coexist better around the world. I need hardly say that I am much heartened to see one of Elephant Family’s CoExistence projects – featuring the work of Dulu Bora, in Assam – up in lights at the end of The Year Earth Changed; an excellent example of how such coexistence is actually possible.
Many people have asked me over the past four weeks about the elephants that are living next door to Clarence House. Each elephant, if you haven’t realised by now, is modelled in intricate detail on a real-life wild elephant from the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India. I am told this is the densest place in the world where humans and elephants share space – with over 450 people per square kilometre and over 500 elephants! They have been created by the Adivasi tribal communities who live in close proximity to their real-life counterpart.
This extraordinary community know each of the elephants by name and understand their behaviour. They know what crops to plant and where to walk. They are deeply connected to nature all around them and are a living breathing embodiment of CoExistence.
I can also proudly say that through my Sustainable Market Initiative’s Circular Bioeconomy Alliance we will start a unique project in the Eastern Himalayas next month in the region of Assam. As a first step, we will restore 1,000 hectares of Natural Forests to create better habitats for elephants while also advancing a first of its kind agroforestry system to produce organic tea. This is just one of the projects we are implementing through a global network of Terra Carta Living Labs for Nature, People and the Planet.
Perhaps, at this point, I could ask you to raise a glass and take a moment to applaud the efforts of this community who, led by The Real Elephant Collective and artist Shubhra Nayar, have spent the last 5 years creating this wonderful herd and have sadly been unable to visit their great creation in action due to the devastating pandemic currently gripping India.
I am also enormously grateful to the generous sponsors and supporters who have made all this possible, but most of all to Ruth and her husband, Ganesh, for their incredible drive and absolute dedication to this cause, not only that but also coming up with wonderfully innovative and more original ideas of how to do these things. Ladies and gentlemen, it is wonderful of you to have taken the trouble to be here this evening – against the odds! You know what you must do, and I hope you will do it with maximum enthusiasm!