Elephants provoke strong opinions. Tourists want to see them on safari and usually encounter calm, relaxed elephants in protected national parks, viewing them from the relative safety of a vehicle. However, rural-dwelling Africans are more likely to encounter elephants on foot, outside protected areas, in places and situations where elephants are more wary of, or aggressive towards, people. Elephant! Tembo! resulted from a conversation I had with Maasai men in Tanzania who wanted to know if I was afraid of elephants. The question made me think more about their encounters with elephants and resulted in this painting, which illustrates two contrasting views. The large head on the left of center is an elephant cow, painted in a relaxed pose, with her long, gently curved trunk leading to smaller images of the herd and a safari vehicle containing tourists. The washes of color used on this side of the painting have soft edges and there is a circular flow, down the elephant’s trunk, around the herd and towards the vehicle. In contrast the large elephant head on the right is an agitated bull. His ears are raised and his trunk curled, while his upturned tusks point towards 2 more bulls in similar poses, and a man attempting to keep the elephants away from his maize crop and home. On this side of the painting there are stronger reds and hard-edged washes, while the smaller elephants are angular and facing opposite directions.
Many of Africa’s elephants live or spend time outside protected reserves, alongside a growing human population, and as competition increases between people and wildlife over access to natural resources, human-wildlife conflict increases too. It is African people who will ultimately decide the fate of Africa’s wildlife and determine whether to accept the hazards of living beside Earth’s largest land mammal, so finding solutions that allow people & wildlife to share natural resources amicably is a high priority.