In memoriam: Mark Shand

We were saddened to hear last week about the death of Mark Shand, a former Fauna & Flora International (FFI) vice-president whose passion for Asian elephant conservation was a major driving force behind our work to protect this species.

As the news passed through the conservation community, we received a message from Wildlife Conservation Society’s Joe Walston, who worked with Mark on FFI’s Asian elephant programme in Vietnam. Joe shared his thoughts on Mark’s contribution to the cause:

“Mark Shand was hard to categorise. To his critics he was a playboy with a cool hobby. To his friends, he was a passionate and informed activist, vigorously campaigning for a future for wild Asian elephants. As my first ever mentor in conservation nearly 20 years ago, he was both of these.

“I first joined Fauna & Flora International as an elephant volunteer, about to be sent to Vietnam. Mark drove me to London and talked about elephants non-stop with passion and empathy; ways in which many conservation biologists like me were trained to eschew. I was initially sceptical. What did this guy know about actually saving elephants?

“It is only through 20 years of conservation in Asia and Africa that one realises just how important people like Mark have been, and are, and will be. Mark not only put Asian elephants back on the map when the world’s attention was on their African cousins, but created whole new constituencies for conservation that people like me could never hope to capture.

Asian elephant. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Asian elephant. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

“Whether it was through his writing (see Travels on My Elephant), his speaking, or simply through his willingness to use his status for the good of elephant conservation, Mark had a quality which ran through all that he did. He had a deep charisma coupled with an even deeper passion. This combination was clear to anyone who met him, and he became a leading authority through his ability to convince people of the need to save elephants.

“Amid his untimely death in New York, we should not overlook the fact that he had just run a phenomenal event to raise almost $2 million for the species, based very much on his conviction and zeal.

“Wild elephants need charismatic ambassadors, tireless advocates and aggressive fighters. Mark was all of these and he will be missed, as much by the magnificent animals he dedicated himself to as by his family and friends.”

Lifelong commitment

Such was Mark’s commitment to Asian elephant conservation that when he left FFI in 1997 he went on to establish a dedicated charity – Elephant Family – which works to address the threats to this Endangered species.

In a tribute, the organisation said: “Mark was an extraordinarily energetic conservationist, whose down-to-earth, warm-hearted, generous and fun-loving character was infectious and drew in so many to supporting his cause. Elephant Family is his legacy.”

FFI’s Chief Executive Mark Rose echoed these sentiments: “Mark was a charismatic character who inspired all who knew him, and he will be sorely missed. But he leaves behind an important legacy – his work to conserve Asian elephants has undoubtedly helped to ensure the continued survival of this species.

“I believe this was his greatest gift, for which he will be remembered for generations to come.”

Main image courtesy of Elephant Family.