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Saving Bornean elephants one stroke at a time

© Christine Das

Ahead of World Elephant Day (Aug. 12), DW spoke to Christine Das, a Malaysian contemporary artist who has dedicated her work to the protection and conservation of Bornean elephants and their habitat.

Christine originally trained as a graphic designer. In 1999, she worked under the supervision of the renowned film scenic artist Peter Colliason on the Hollywood production Anna and the King which was filmed in Malaysia.

Since 2007, she has only pursued contemporary art, working mostly with acrylic on canvas. She has participated in many local and international group shows and art fairs, including an installation project by Wei Ling Art Gallery at the 2013 Art Basel Exhibition in Hong Kong.

She says that her work is inspired by nature, Catholicism and life. Her paintings are “stylized yet elegant, meticulously derived through stroke-by-stroke immersion to capture the essence of the environment.”

She feels very strongly about protecting the natural environment and wildlife and in the past five years she has been particularly concerned about Bornean elephants.

Christine wearing the T-shirt she designed for WWF Malaysia to raise funds for elephant conservation © Christine Das

She heard on the news that a herd of Bornean pygmy elephants had been found dead at the Gunung Rara Forest Reserve in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah. The elephants were suspected to have been poisoned.

She was very moved by the story and particularly affected by a picture of a frightened baby elephant trying to wake up his dead mother using his trunk.

“The little Bornean elephant pointed me to my purpose in life, which is to create awareness about their plight,” says Christine. “Little Joe is his name and his tragic story is one that to this day still makes me cry whenever I talk about it. This little elephant (who isn’t little anymore) is my angel on earth.”

She started working with the Borneo Conservation Trust Sabah (BCTS) and WWF Malaysia in support of this cause, using her art as a tool to create awareness and to raise funds.

Last June, she cooperated with BCTS in a tree-planting exercise at the Kinabatangan Wildlife Corridor, helping to raise funds to buy tree seedlings through the sales of her art.

“Since [protecting] elephant habitats is a key issue that I highlight, tree-planting is crucial. Neither the public nor our Malaysian leaders see the value of our forests and the life they carry. Our forest coverage is now less than 30 percent. Trees that had survived millions of years are gone because of human greed.”

Christine at work © Christine Das

There is a lot of work to be done. Recently, there have been more cases of Bornean pygmy elephants being found dead in Sabah.

“We really need effective and consistent law enforcement,” says Christine. “And we need rangers with the authority to shoot-to-kill anyone who is endangering our wildlife.

“We cannot afford to lose even one of our wild species. Look at what has happened to the Sumatran rhinos. Can you imagine Malaysia without Bornean elephants? That must not, and cannot happen.”

Malaysia has only two Sumatran rhinos left. Conservationists consider them extinct in the wild.

“I hope that people will learn to respect the elephants and their habitat, and teach their children to do so.”

Christine also urges people to be responsible when they go on holiday. They should refrain from riding elephants, watching wildlife performances or buying any parts of wild animals.

“I would like to apologize to the younger generation because we have left them so little wildlife and nature. I hope that they will have a stronger sense of stewardship towards elephants, other wildlife, and their habitat.”


Author: Elle Wong (act)



17.08.2018 | 9:51