Founder Dr. Max Graham tells Document why elephants are crucial to our planet’s survival
Elephants are crucial to the survival of this planet as an integral part of the African ecosystems that produce clean air, clean water, and carbon sequestration. Gemfields—a world-leading supplier of responsibly-sourced, colored gemstones—knows very well how important elephants are to the African landscape, so it partnered with Space for Giants—a non-profit that fights for elephant conservation by spreading awareness, and raising money to protect elephants in their natural habitat—and Net-a-Porter for Walk for Giants. Walk for Giants is a campaign to raise funds and build awareness for African wildlife conservation. Gemfields’s Walk for Giants capsule collection features 44 pieces, while Net-a-Porter is presenting 15 sustainable capsule collections. Proceeds from the collections will support Space for Giants’s efforts in Africa.
“What Walk for Giants so brilliantly amplifies is that conserving existing natural landscapes is not just critical for the future of humanity but is also the best economic deal around,” said Dr. Max Graham, founder and CEO of Space for Giants. “Nature-based businesses bring jobs, buy from local suppliers, pay taxes, and build national economies. But the natural assets these enterprises rely on—including Africa’s last populations of mega- fauna—are under grave risk. We must protect them now, so they can continue to deliver their value, forever.”
Gemfields’ Walk for Giants capsule collection, available at gemfields.com, features the brand’s Zambian emeralds and Mozambican rubies set in 44 pieces, designed in collaboration with AYA, Backes & Strauss, Bina Goenka, Fabergé, Fehmida Lakhany, Francis de Lara, GFG Jewelry by Nilufer, Margery Hirschey, Sandy Leong, VAK Fine Jewels, Valani Atelier, and Zoe & Morgan. Riccardo Ruini served as creative director for the campaign, shot by Francesco Carrozzini. Carrozzoni photographed models Arizona Muse and Selena Forrest against the natural beauty of the Enasoit Game Sanctuary in Laikipia, Kenya. Document spoke to Dr. Graham about the importance of elephants in Africa, why poachers are threatening their lives, and what we can do to help.
Ann Binlot: Why are elephants threatened in Africa?
Dr. Max Graham: Africa’s wild places and their wildlife are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems left on Earth. They have great value both ecologically and economically to people, to countries, and to the planet. But they are under threat.
Elephants are threatened mainly by three factors: poaching for their tusks, loss of habitat, and conflict with farmers over crops and water. Hunting, especially for ivory, has historically been the leading cause of elephant deaths—it’s estimated that as many as 10 million elephants roamed the continent in the 1930s. Today, there are approximately 400,000 left.
Conservation efforts have helped to reduce the poaching spike in the past decade. But the loss of habitat for elephants and other wildlife, and associated conflict with farmers in a rapidly modernizing Africa, remains a bigger threat. Finding innovative ways to promote coexistence, and steer development that ensures that nature remains intact, is the only way to ensure the elephants have a future.
It means finding new ways to fund forever the protection of these landscapes so they can continue to bring their benefits for generations to come.
Ann: What kinds of things do poachers do?
Dr. Graham: Poachers increasingly operate with the backing of sophisticated, international cartels that are pumping money into the killing of elephants and other wildlife. They take advantage of weak laws, poor international coordination and poor enforcement [of these laws], to kill elephants for their tusks. A lot of work is being done by African nations and conservation organizations to stop poaching, but due to the current pandemic the resources needed to protect elephants and other wildlife are dwindling. It is a huge concern that poaching gangs might take advantage of the reduced ability of wildlife protectors to do their job, and start to target elephants and other wildlife with renewed vigor.
Ann: What ecological and economic value do elephants bring to Africa?
Dr. Graham: Elephants are the real assets in their landscapes. They expand ecological diversity, and they drive local and national economies, especially through wildlife-based tourism. Without elephants, natural ecosystems can lose their integrity and reduce the flow of services—clean air, clean water, medicine, timber, and carbon sequestration on which we all depend. Forest elephants shape the canopy of Africa’s equatorial rainforests in a way that optimizes carbon sequestration by more than 7%. If you were to translate this into conservative carbon credit value, forest elephants contribute at least $43 billion of ecosystem services to our planet. So in many ways the fate of people, wherever they may live, is inextricably linked to the fate of African elephants.
Imprinted into the DNA of Space for Giants is the idea that elephants are a keystone species, whose preservation is critical to the health of natural ecosystems and ultimately the planet. We use the power of elephants to mobilize people to protect landscapes, because it’s those landscapes that provide us all with oxygen, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, medicine, livelihoods, income, and, not least, a sense of wonder at our place in the interconnected web of life.
Ann: How does Space for Giants spread awareness?
Dr. Graham: We work with local, national, and international partners to drive home the urgency and necessity of immediate action to preserve Africa’s natural landscapes and their wildlife. We have an African Journalist Fellowship program that allows us to mentor and work with environmental and conservation-focused African journalists, enabling them to better tell conservation stories in their own authentic voices to audiences in their countries and beyond.
We seek and find opportunities that allow us to engage with other conservation organizations, governments, philanthropists, as well as other industries such as fashion to generate interest and support for conservation. One of these campaigns is Walk for Giants, an innovative partnership with the fashion and gemstone industries to drive action and generate funding for critical conservation work. Additionally we have a longstanding partnership with ESI Media allowing conservation stories to reach 120 million people worldwide every month.
Ann: Why did you partner with Gemfields for Walk for Giants?
Dr. Graham: In December 2018 I invited a group of philanthropists on a four-day walk with pack camels along the Ewaso Nyiro River, which is the lifeblood of wildlife and people in Northern Kenya and a seasonal migratory route for some 3,000 elephants. Among my guests were two fashion luminaries; Leila Yavari, an executive from the fashion industry and Elena Perminova, the Russian supermodel. On our long walks we discussed how we could combine the world of fashion and the world of conservation to achieve positive change. Walk for Giants and our partnership with Gemfields was the outcome of that brainstorm. We hope that this will be a catalyst for the fashion industry and the wider corporate world to transform units of consumption into units of conservation.
Ann: How has COVID-19 impacted Space for Giants’s efforts?
Dr. Graham: The wildlife conservation sector in Africa is dependent on tourism income, philanthropy, and government funding. With the COVID crisis, tourism income has disappeared and philanthropy and government funding are rapidly declining with the global economic downturn. This is impacting the delivery of essential frontline conservation services in African protected areas. At the same time, with the COVID crisis impacting local livelihoods, there is greater pressure to secure food and money through the illegal exploitation of nature from poaching. As a consequence we are facing a new and very serious conservation crisis.
Ann: What else can people do to help?
Dr. Graham: Spread the word about conservation and play your part wherever you are in the world. Visit www.walkforgiants.org where you can learn more about this initiative, and shop the Gemfields and NET-A-PORTER collections with all profits coming back to Space for Giants. If you would like to support Space for Giants and our conservation efforts on the ground across nine African countries, please donate through donate.spaceforgiants.org.