Don’t look now but elephants are gearing up to take over the streets of Chiang Mai. Not real elephants, of course, but life-sized baby elephant statues—70 of them in all, each painted and decorated differently. The objective: to increase awareness about the challenges facing endangered Asian elephants and to raise money to support conservation projects around the world.
The annual art exposition and social enterprise is dubbed Elephant Parade and takes place this year between December 9 and January 15, 2017. It’s fitting that this year’s 10th anniversary installment will hit the streets of Chiang Mai, where, in 2006, the campaign founder first met Mosha, the elephant that inspired it all. Over the past 10 years, elephant statues have popped up in the United Kingdom, China, Italy, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, and Brazil.
In each iteration, elephant statues are decorated by local artists, international brands, and top celebrities. This year, some of the creative minds behind the statues include architect Duangrit Bunnag, ex-Miss Thailand Cindy Bishop, and Team Ferrari.
[[[slideshow_id#667]]] If you aren’t an elephant expert, you may not know that the Asian elephant, which ranges over 13 countries across Asia, is an endangered species with fewer than 40,000 animals remaining worldwide. As population in Asia grows, the animals are losing more of their habitats to urban sprawl. Making matters worse, the elephants are poached for ivory (although they are not slaughtered as frequently as African elephants).
Mike Spits, founder and CEO of the Elephant Parade, said he hopes the exposition changes the way people think about the plight of Asian elephants.
“If elephants disappear, we are not only giving up on them, but on the many other threatened species as well,” he said, noting that the inspiration for this campaign was Mosha, an elephant that now lives at Friends of the Asian Elephant in Lampung. “Through motivation and commitment, much is achievable.”
This year, the fanfare will coincide with the opening of “Elephant Parade Land Experience,” an attraction where visitors will be able to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Elephant Parade art studio and paint their own elephants. According to Spits, Elephant Parade also will publish a free guide to help visitors find all the elephant statues around town.
In the end, Elephant Parade donates 20 percent of its net profits from the expositions, and merchandise sales, such as limited edition, handcrafted replicas, go to the NGO Elephant Family, Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital, and Naka Foundation. Add this to the value of the public art, and the impact of the event is, well, huge.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com