As you will no doubt know, Mark Shand, conservationist and founder of the charity Elephant Family, died in New York on April 23rd, 2014, after a fundraising event. Like many in the industry, I knew Mark, both personally and by reputation. Indeed, he has proved a guiding influence in the way many of us think about life, conservation and the future of Africa’s wildernesses.
My personal contact with Mark – well, with, more accurately, the legend that is Mark Shand – began at the tender age of 19, when I had the good fortune to visit Madhya Pradesh (India’s central state) on a Muir Scholarship financing overseas projects for ‘kids with good ideas’. I had originally proposed a project documenting war-wounded Mujahidin on the Afghan/Pakistan border, but after America bombed Libya the region was incredibly unstable. I went to India instead – and photographed tigers.
When at Kanha National Park in Kipling Camp, we frequently rode into the bush on elephants – in order to get close to the tigers. One of these, an elephant called Tara, was being looked after at the camp in her retirement. Tara belonged to Mark Shand. I heard lots about Mark and his legendary journey across India with Tara. I read Travels on my Elephant. The camp was full of tales of his adventures, and they made an enormous impression on me. I was inspired as much by Mark’s bravery as I was by his unique outlook on life.
Much time passed: I came home to the UK and completed my education. Many years and many trips later I set up Journeys by Design, and at a meeting with Catherine Fairweather (then travel editor at Harpers Bazaar), I discovered that Catherine’s husband, Don McCullin, the war photographer, was Mark’s best friend. Life had come a full circle – almost. They say you oughtn’t risk meeting your heroes; it’s not often that they live up to expectations. Mark did, of course, and in every way imaginable. I first met him in Kew, London, in preparation for travelling on a trip to Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya, where Don, Mark and I fly-camped along the Omo River. It remains one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.
In the years that followed, Journeys by Design has had reasonably close contact with Elephant Family, work that has resulted in further Mark Shand orientated projects. I always imagined many more years of collaboration – perhaps even another trip. That, I’m afraid, was not to be. I will always remain grateful for the inspiration Mark provided, as well as for the warmth and support he showed towards our work at Journeys by Design.