Elephants Wear Ivory: Fusing technology with art to protect heritage

Tanvir Ali, conservationist Jim Nyamu, Irish Ambassador Vincent O’Neill and Feisal Malik display the "Elephants Wear Ivory" book. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The book Elephants Wear Ivory is a product of a love for photography and a passion for conservation.
  • When Tanvir and Feisal speak, you feel their anger at poachers and begin to understand why they published their book, and why 10 per cent of their profits go into conservation.
  • And the more sales they make, the more they will give to protect elephants, they promise.

Feisal Malik has always loved nature, and in 2014, through his filming company, he set out to make a documentary on elephant poaching. The film – Last in Line – was investigating illegal ivory trade.

During the project, Feisal filmed a poisoned elephant dying; it was a slow painful death that lasted more than four hours.

This emotional experience drove him to plan for a coffee table picture book, complete with a documentary on a DVD, to celebrate elephants and discourage poaching.
In 2016, Feisal’s friend Tanvir Ali approached him to do a project together. They discussed the book and decided to replace the DVD with a branded flash disk; and make the book 50 per cent of each person’s work.

As they were working on it, Feisal travelled to India to mentor in a photography competition, where he talked about the upcoming book and conservation. In the crowd, a stranger, who would eventually help to improve the book, was intrigued.

When Feisal finished his presentation, the man approached him with a proposal to partner. That man was Puneet Chadha, the HP regional marketing director for Asia Pacific Japan.

Tanvir Ali and Feisal Malik out in the wild. PHOTO | COURTESY

When Feisal got back to Nairobi, they had a chat and Puneet suggested using augmented reality – videos incorporated in the book – instead of a flash disk.

Feisal and Tanvir were excited and they went back to shoot more videos and take more pictures with the new concept in mind.

The two men, who studied business and finance, saw their photography hobby and love for conservation come alive.
And thus, Elephants Wear Ivory was born.
This is not just any book — it is a documentary that fuses art, conservation and technology in a beautiful way.

The 108-page book that weighs 2kg was printed in less than five minutes using a special HP Indigo printer in India. It has a hard cover and augmented reality — where you can watch videos that are in the book by simply scanning the video sections using the iSmartPhoto app that you download in your phone.

For Feisal and Tanvir, it is not about sales or fame, but about protecting our heritage.

“Elephants are misunderstood, mainly because they are considered destructive, yet they are a keystone species,” Tanvir says. “You know; they help in reforestation. When elephants eat plants and fruits, their digestive system does not digest the seeds. And they can walk far, even 50km, and when they defecate, the seeds germinate and this helps in propagating various plants.”


And jumbos are saviours, Tanvir adds animatedly.

“When it’s really dry, like in the drought season, they can smell out water...And when they dig water for themselves, other animals around them also get access to water.”
Killing elephants would hurt the ecosystem and affect humans. And it would take five to seven years for a new generation to thrive.

An African elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, and they usually give birth to only one calf at a time. The mother then takes two to five years to wean and care for the calf, during which it does not mate.

When Tanvir and Feisal speak, you feel their anger at poachers and begin to understand why they published the book and why 10 per cent of their profits go into conservation.

And the more sales they make, the more they will give to protect elephants, they promise.

The two support Jim Nyamu’s conservation efforts and give their profits to his organisation. Jim runsElephant Neighbors Center, which works to protect elephants.

Through Jim, the two met Irish ambassador Vincent O’Neill and the embassy bought 25 books, which it has been distributing to primary schools in Kenya to promote conservation.

Every year, the embassy chooses what animal to ‘green’ (cover an animal in green to symbolise it will be the focal point of conservation, and to celebrate Ireland’s presence) during St Patrick’s Day, celebrated on March 17 every year.

In 2018, it ‘greened’ the elephant. Green is Ireland’s national colour and St Patrick is its patron saint.

Ambassador O’Neill says Ireland is an advocate on conservation around the world.

“Our future is very much linked with our sustainability and protecting our biodiversity…preserving the landscape, preserving wildlife is very important,” he says.

During the embassy’s ‘greening’ campaign, the ambassador was introduced to Jim Nyamu, who in turn spoke to him about Elephants Wear Ivory, and how Feisal and Tanvir are supporting conservation.

Tanvir Ali and Feisal Malik hold their book "Elephants Wear Ivory". PHOTO | COURTESY

Feisal and Tanvir enjoyed their safaris and said they were excited about doing a project they both enjoyed. They say that working on the book opened doors for them, and they encourage youth, and especially creatives, to look at many avenues for making a living while enjoying their craft.

“Opportunities are there; take them. If you have a passion for something, do it. Partnerships and teamwork are gold mines,” Feisal says.

Feisal and Tanvir personally sell their books at a currently discounted rate of Sh6,500 and it comes packed in an eco-friendly bag made by a youth self-help group in Kawangware, Nairobi.

They have also set up sale of the book in the UK.

In Kenya, you can order the book on their Facebook page “Elephants Wear Ivory”.


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