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After hearing Holly speak at the Fuse event at We Are Africa in May of this year, SCC caught up with her in her home in the UK to learn more about how she is bringing to light the plight of African elephants whose species could be extinct in the wild within 10 years.
Holly is not only an award winning artist, but also a world record holder and a campaigner against the ivory trade. Her art, which includes the stunning ‘96 Elephants a Day’ necklace worked from ‘vegetable ivory’ – a seed, which resembles the look, feel and shape of elephant ivory, which in fact comes from the Phytelephas palm tree in the Amazon rainforest – is multi-award winning and weaves in the shocking statistics of elephant poaching that can be found across all mediums of her work.
It was, in fact, this piece of art that brought her passion for conservation to light and why she began her organisation ‘How Many Elephants’. She began fundraising by taking part in serious adventure sports, including mountain climbing and skydiving. Last year she climbed Mount Everest following her world record of becoming the first female to ever skydive Everest in 2008.
SCC asked Holly some questions regarding her work and got the chance to look around her exhibition space, which Holly uses to give insightful and passionate lectures to the public and schools on the subject of the ivory trade.
SCC: How did you first get interested in the ivory trade?
HB: I started researching the ivory trade while I was studying at Brighton University doing a Masters in Sustainable Design. I had worked with vegetable ivory for nearly a decade before deciding to formally study it. Its similarity to elephant ivory lead me on a new line of enquiry in my studies and ultimately, using the material to raise awareness of the devastating impact of the elephant ivory trade.
SCC: And explain why the number ‘96’ means so much to you?
HB: Yes, the number 96 can be found across all the work I do; this is because ‘96’ is the number of elephants that are poached every day in Africa for their ivory. Trying to visualise scientific data can be difficult so I wanted my art to visually show what these poaching numbers actually look like. My necklace showcases 96 elephants, the daily poaching rate and my hard-hitting exhibition showcases 35,000 elephants, the annual poaching rate.
I bought an old chapel near to my house and have lovingly transformed it into a beautiful white event space to house my exhibition. The space is covered from floor to ceiling in a dramatic display of elephants, with each square of 96 elephants representing one day of poaching in Africa. I have purposely avoided using gruesome images of mutilated elephants as I believe we have become desensitized to this approach. To see and connect with the raw data visually is very impactful.
SCC: Do you feel that people were unaware of how big the problem really is?
HB: Absolutely – some people who come to my exhibition have no idea of the scale of the elephant poaching crisis and people are truly shocked to see how bad it really is. I have a whole range of people come to listen to me speak and i’ve had over 1000 schools children visit and do workshops with me. It is great to get so many people engaging with global issues. Children, especially, are fascinated and inspired to get involved and take action.
SCC: How does your adventures across the world tie into your ‘How Many Elephants’ campaign?
HB:Last year I was quite literally on top of the world when I got sponsored to climb Mount Everest, waving the ‘How Many Elephants’ flag from the summit. I use my adventures as a platform to raise funds for various charities, including my own charity, “How Many Elephants’. To date, I have raised over £300,000. I have two world records under my belt so far, including being the first woman to skydive Everest and race semi-wild horses 1000 kms across Mongolia in just nine days. My mission is to inspire others to daydream, meander, run, climb and jump into their own adventures. My message is simple: Think Big, Dream Bigger.
I have also recently been to visit the Black Mambas in South Africa to learn more about their fight against poaching. The Black Mambas are an elite all-female anti-poaching team who fight to protect the wildlife in their region. I not only want to promote their work, but also champion them as positive female role models to other women globally and show women successfully working in traditional male roles.
SCC: What is your next adventure?
HB: My next big adventure is to walk the entire length of the Great Wall China to carry out research about how elephant ivory fits into their culture. I also heard that climbing to the top of Mt. Kenya can be pretty challenging – I may try that also!
But in terms of my projects, it can only get bigger and better! I am keen to bring the ‘How Many Elephants’ exhibition to more people and a bigger audience – I am in the process of trying to get the exhibition into international airports.
SCC: Where can people next hear you speak?
HB: I was recently in Cape Town for the Conservation Lab and then for We Are Africa but I speak at events globally. I will be talking at TEDx Brighton this year on Oct 26th and will post details of all my speaking events online at www.hollybudge.com/upcoming-events – I am always open for an invite anywhere!
Thanks so much Holly for your time, energy and excitement! We can’t wait to hear more from you and wish you good luck in the future!