A herd of sculpted elephants is giving Africa’s spirit animal a chance


We have always been enamoured with elephants. Their image is brushed onto cave walls across South Africa, evidence of a longstanding fascination that continues today. For those who live here the beasts represent a spiritual connection to the land. But their future is in danger. Artist Andries Botha fears that if we don’t get more active about protecting our modern mammoths, future generations might be left with nothing but fading depictions.

Botha is driving the cause through a herd of sculpted elephants – life-size pachyderms constructed by encasing driftwood in metal exoskeletons. His hope is to convince his audience that humans and animals can co-exist peacefully. The sculptor, who lectures the subject at the Durban University of Technology, was once effectively oblivious to the plight of the world’s largest land mammals. But after being introduced to cave paintings in the Northern Cape showing the area’s now-lost elephants he woke up. Botha became disturbed by the damaging encroachment of the enlarging human world on the habitats of these colossal creatures.

With conservationist Dr Ian Player, he started the Human Elephant Foundation to generate awareness for their protection, hosting exhibitions as a means of advocacy. Since its original display in Belgium in 2006 his herd has grown to host 20 imposing giants, some of which most recently appeared at Durban’s Warwick Triangle, rising out of the ground in an attempt to cross the freeway. The question isn’t who was here first, but how we can live together now that we’re here.