Mark Shand's 'heart was English, but his soul was Indian'

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Apr 25, 2014 02:06 IST

Conservationist, wild-life enthusiast and travel writer Mark Shand, who died from a fall in New York on Wednesday aged 62, had a lifelong love affair with India and its elephants, for whom he raised millions of pounds from celebrities to better their living conditions.

Brother of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Shand first visited India in 1965 en route to Australia, when he was 14. He had been expelled from the Milton Abbey School for smoking cannabis and was sent to Australia by his father to learn some life lessons.

He stopped in India for an extended stay, and immediately fell in love with the country. When he returned in 1988, he rescued Tara, a female elephant he said he “fell in love with” on the streets of Bhubaneswar. He then rode Tara for about 600 miles across India, and later described his adventure in his prize-winning book, ‘Travels on My Elephant’.

In 2002, he set up Elephant Family, a charity organisation campaigning for elephant welfare in India, Indonesia and Thailand.

Shand (2nd L) with the Prince of Wales (2nd R) and other conservationists during a visit to Kerala in November last year.

Shand and his charity won accolades for their work over six years with elephants in Jaipur, particularly for those that carry tourists under the harsh sun, up and down the steep slopes of Amber fort, one of the most popular tourist spots in the Pink City.

Fondly remembered in Jaipur as a man passionate about elephants, Shand’s work included a ban on use of the deadly ‘ankush’ (metal hook) on the elephants, a reduction in dehydration, constipation and skin problems, and a decline in the number of rope and bed sores. Winding up his Jaipur project in 2009, Shand had said, “We are leaving the elephants in a much better condition. I am very much contented. Prior to our arrival the hundred strong captive elephants were living under terrible conditions. Working throughout the day in blistering heat they carried an endless number of tourists to the Amber Fort and back.”

Among the donors to Shand’s charity were London-based Indian couple, Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala, who said to HT from New York, “Mark was extraordinarily passionate about his work at Elephant Family. He often used to joke, his heart was English but his soul was Indian. We will miss him.”

Read: In the Shand of time, he left his Mark on elephant conservation in India

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