When planning a new project, sometimes when browsing through reference photos or stories I stumble across inspiration and learn something new about the amazing animals I've dedicated my life to painting.
I have, in numerous paintings in the past, used the theme of an elephant burial ground, and often have put elephant skulls, complete with tusks in my paintings. The tusks, to signify that the elephant died in it's old age, and also just by virtue of being in the skull, that the elephant was not poached or shot for trophy, but rather died of natural causes.
It is well documented that elephants will travel the same paths to reach certain waterholes and feeding areas, and that they have an extraordinary memory. There is a theory that certain climatic conditions can trigger a response that changes years of similar activity to a seemingly 'new' pattern but then when a waterhole is found at the end of this new pattern it emerges that years before when there was a severe drought for example, the elephant were a common sight in that area. So not so new, rather a remembered response to suit the present conditions. There is also the enduring story that elephants have a place they go to die.
This brings me to a remarkable true story of Ahmed.
Ahmed of Marsabit was and still is the most famous Elephant ever to have roamed the African continent. In 1970, in order to protect him from poachers, former President of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, placed the Elephant under his protection by presidential decree, an unparalleled occurrence in the history of the country and the only Elephant to be declared a living monument. The giant was watched over day and night by armed guards against poachers. On his death, Kenyatta had his body moved to Nairobi for taxidermy. His skeleton and tusks are on display in the Nairobi National Museum. The skin was not able to be used for the taxidermy, so Kenyatta approved of a sculpture of the elephant to made by taxidermist/sculptor/artist Wolfgang Skenk
"Together with Richard Leakey, the director of the National Museum, we decided that I should model a life size sculpture of Ahmed. First I modelled a plasticine sculpture 1:10 to show everyone, including the President, how the later sculpture would look. Today my life size sculpture of Ahmed stands outside in the yard in front of the Nairobi National Museum. The skeleton with the original tusks is in the Mammal Hall inside the Museum." - Wolfgang Shenk (1)
So with this lovely story as a background inspiration, I decided to do a painting in honor of these legendary big tuskers from the Marsabit National Park in Kenya. The area contains a number of extinct volcanic craters, which are covered in forests. Because of its dense forests it has become a sanctuary for birds and animals.