The Adventurer Conquering the World to Save the Elephant

9 mins

Every day 96 elephants are killed for their ivory in Africa. Adventurer Holly Budge is hurling herself out of planes, climbing mountains and snowboarding down them to stop the poaching and promote elephant conservation. Oh, and she’s creating  jewellery to highlight the issue, too. Karen Pasquali Jones talks to her

At first glance the necklace looks like it’s made out of ivory, but the 95 elephants have, in fact, been carved out of a sustainable plant from the Amazon Rainforest. Near the top there’s another single brass elephant representing the bullet shells used by poachers in Africa to kill elephants for their tusks. The current rate of slaughter is 96 elephants a day.

‘One elephant is facing the other way to indicate that there is still hope that this crisis can be turned around,’ says sustainable designer Holly Budge. She created the piece of jewellery out of vegetable ivory as a way of educating people about the poaching crisis and promoting elephant conservation without using shocking or graphic images.

elephant conservation necklace

Holly’s jewellery raises awareness of the need for elephant conservation without using graphic imagery. Image: Holly Budge

‘A staggering 96 elephants are poached each day in Africa and at this rate, they will be extinct by 2025,’ she says. ‘Exotic and rare animal parts have been fetishised by humans as luxurious, highly prized and valued possessions for hundreds of years. This script needs rewriting.

‘I wanted to avoid gruesome imagery to portray the facts. It is not about scaring people, it’s about sharing the enormity of the poaching crisis.’

The need for elephant conservation

As well as winning the prestigious Arts & Crafts Design Award for her statement necklace, Holly, 38, also set up her own award-winning campaign How Many Elephants and has raised a total of £300,000 (AED1.44 million) for this, and a variety of charities, to help raise awareness about the devastating impact of the elephant ivory trade, which has increased since the ban in 1989.

elephant conservation necklace

The necklace is a stark reminder of how many elephants die daily and the desperate need for elephant conservation. Image: Holly Budge

‘Poaching has rocketed as a result of the rising demand in China,’ Hollys says. ‘A recent survey carried out by the International Fund for Animal Welfare revealed that 70 per cent of Chinese do not know that ivory is predominantly the product of a poached elephant. The Chinese word for ivory literally translates to tooth. This is a stark reminder that greater awareness and education is needed.’

‘To stop the poacher, the trader must be stopped. To stop the trader, the final buyer must be convinced not to buy mammal ivory of any sort.’

She is also helping support the Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, the first of its kind in that most of the team are women. They work on the boundaries of Balule and the Greater Kruger Park in South Africa to protect wildlife, but they also strive to create a strong bond and educating the local communities to save their natural heritage.

‘Their work relies solely on funding and I want to help support the work of these brave and courageous woman,’ she says. ‘As the former Kenyan president said: ‘‘To stop the poacher, the trader must be stopped. To stop the trader, the final buyer must be convinced not to buy mammal ivory of any sort.’’’

elephant conservation stop poaching

Holly hopes her art and campaign will halt the poaching and increase elephant conservation. Image: Shutterstock

But it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Holly’s having such an impact with her campaigning and charity work. She is, after all, the holder of not one, but two world records – for being the first woman to skydive Mount Everest in 2008 and to race semi-wild horses 1,000km across Mongolia in the longest horse race on the planet 12 months later.

In the years since she’s climbed up, snow-boarded down and generally tackled the world’s most challenging mountains and has just spent two months climbing up to the summit of the world’s tallest: Mount Everest.

She was the only woman on the team, and beaming the entire experience live to her Instagram audience, thanks to some nifty technology from her Dubai sponsors, Thuraya Telecom and their UK distributor Talia Ltd.

Action woman

Not bad for a girl who thinks nothing of jumping out of a plane at 29,500ft to freefall past the world’s biggest mountains at speeds of more than 140mph at temperatures of -40 degrees C for fun. Her high-octane adventures, and public speaking also raises money, which is pumped back into elephant conservation.

Holly Budge skydiving over Mount Everest for elephant conservation

Skydiving over Everest. Image: Holly Budge

‘I’ve always loved adventure,’ Holly laughs, ‘but this latest trip was incredible. Sitting above the clouds on top of Mount Everest with blue skies all around you makes you feel – as it should – on top of the world. I use my adventures as a vehicle to raise funds for How Many Elephants and it made all the hard work to get to this point worth it.

‘It was great to share it with my followers, too. I had the chance to take a satellite modem with me which only weighed just over a kilo in my backpack so I was delighted to post from the summit and share that moment with everyone.’

Holly’s Instagram feed and hashtag #EverestEveryday shows the highs and lows of her challenge from the beginning to the end. ‘It was raw and very, very tough,’ she reveals. ‘I was also scared sometimes, and at other times euphoric. I still pinch myself knowing that I made a responsible summit bid on the world’s highest mountain. I’m glad I have all these pictures to go with my memories. It makes it more real somehow.

‘As a brand ambassador for Nature Shop UK, I’m not action woman or any better than anyone else. I don’t believe I have a physical advantage – I just work very, very hard to make sure I’m in the right shape to get to the top and achieve my goals.’

She trained hard for the climb, going to the gym six days a week, working out with a personal trainer twice a week and doing a specialist online programme for climbers too.

‘There’s this expression, ‘train hard, fight easy,’ but what I realise is, you’ve got to train hard, and regardless of who you are, on any big mountain, you’ve got to fight hard,’ she says.

Most of Holly’s 60 days getting to the summit were spent acclimatising. She travelled light, with only the modem, which powered the app on her mobile, and her iPod Shuffle as luxuries.

After three ‘rotations’ going between Base Camp and Camp 1 to acclimatise and start getting used to using oxygen, Holly and her Sherpa Jangbu were ready for the climb and eventual ascent to the summit. On the way she passed the bodies of climbers who hadn’t made it. ‘I was really shocked to see the first dead body, a guy who had probably only died the day before,’ she says. ‘It was haunting.

‘You can’t ever relax up there and you shouldn’t climb alone as you need to recognise when you have signs of high altitude sickness, including cerebral oedema, when your brain swells. It makes you feel as if you’re drunk and when those symptoms show you have to get down fast. It’s like the bends for divers and the biggest killer on the mountain.

‘My Sherpa told me we passed nine bodies and there are about 200 on the mountain. It’s a stark reminder of the danger.

‘It took us nine hours to reach the summit,’ she continues. ‘There was just the two of us and the weather was incredible. We sat there in silence, grateful for the experience.’

Holly Budge Mount Everest

On top of the world – the summit of Mount Everest. Image: Holly Budge

After half an hour – and a triumphant selfie on the summit, they began their descent only to be caught in high winds, which left them stranded at Camp 3, which is an eagle’s nest 8,300 metres high, perched on a narrow, rocky outcrop.

‘I thought our tent would blow away because the winds were so strong. When we looked outside the following morning most of the other tents had been shredded. I couldn’t wait to get back to base camp – it was a really long day.’

Stop the bloodshed

Now back home in Hampshire, UK, Holly wants to continue fighting to stop elephant poaching in Africa, raise awareness for elephant conservation – and to inspire women that they can achieve anything. ‘With self-belief, determination and resilience even the biggest of challenges can be overcome,’ she says. ‘Women are incredibly tough creatures and sometimes just need to give themselves more credit.’

Holly Budge elephant conservation necklace

Holly with her necklace. Image: Holly Budge

She’s now getting ready to take her necklace and an art installation to China and Hong Kong to raise awareness about the dangers of poaching for ivory.

‘My exhibition has an 18 metre-long infographic displaying 35,040 elephants – the current annual poaching rate in Africa,’ Holly says. ‘The monochrome colour palette reflects the indifference of these animals in their fate. To add a further layer of meaning, four red lightboxes represent the hourly death toll, with red symbolising the blood spilt already.’

HollyBudge art exhibition

Holly showing off her art exhibition. Image: Holly Budge

How Many Elephants is reaching out to a vast global audience to gain attention and inspire much-needed conversations. It’s time to stop the poaching and the bloodshed.’

Elephant poaching – the facts:

elephant conservation the facts on poaching

96 African elephants are being killed per day for their ivory. Image: Shutterstock

Ivory has been revered for thousands of years. The boy pharaoh Tutankhuman was found in his tomb lying on a headrest of ivory while big game hunting in the 19th Century was a popular sport for the wealthy, which wiped out entire herds across Africa.

During the 1980s poaching boomed, and more than 600,000 are believed to have been killed in the ‘elephant holocaust.’ Now poachers, and local hunters are threatening to make them extinct.

The trade ban of 1989 led to a recovery in numbers of elephants until 2008 when rising demand in China led criminal gangs to infiltrate and fund poaching. Last year more African elephants were killed for their tusks than were born.

A byproduct of poaching leaves the land the elephants roamed on free for development. By 2050, 63 per cent of elephant rangelands will be compromised. Hunters can make more money from elephant meat than the ivory.

Education with adverts featuring local and international celebrities in China – the main source of demand – has meant 71 per cent of Chinese now think poaching is a problem, up from 47 per cent two years before.

In Kenya NGOs are recruiting poachers to be park rangers to aid elephant conservation and help save these beautiful beasts.

To find out more about Holly or to donate, visit How Many Elephants

Tags: , , , ,