Mark Shand, 62, died on April 23, 2014 from a head injury suffered in a fall when he reportedly tried to re-enter a New York City bar through a revolving door, after smoking a cigarette outside. Shand, the younger brother of British Prince Charles’ wife Camilla Parker Bowles, was author of the 1992 British best-seller Travels On My Elephant, about a 600-mile elephant trek across India, and in 2002 founded a charity called The Elephant Family to undertake a variety of conservation and welfare projects benefiting Asian elephants.
Shand’s most recent writing may have been a February 19, 2014 essay for the Daily Mail entitled “Marius the giraffe’s grotesque slaughter exposes the dirty secrets of our zoos,” denouncing the killings of a giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo in Denmark and a family of lions at the Longleat Zoo in Britain. The giraffe and lions were deemed “genetically redundant.”
Shand’s fatal accident occurred as he and friends celebrated raising $1.6 million for The Elephant Family through the Big Egg Hunt, sponsored by Fabergé. Benefitting many different charities, “The hunt involves 200 giant eggs hidden around New York which are decorated by famous artists and designers and sold at auction,” explained The Guardian.
Elephant Family chief executive Ian Walkden told media that the Elephant Family had altogether delivered more than $10 million in aid to Asian elephant projects.
Frequently controversial, Shand was in his youth expelled from the Milton Abbey School in Dorset for smoking marijuana.
Shand’s 1994 book Queen of the Elephants, a sequel to Travels On My Elephant, made an international celebrity of Assamese mahout Parbati Barua. Her star fell somewhat after videographers Mike Pandey and Amalendu Mishra on February 5, 2003 videotaped her handling of a newly captured alleged “mankiller” elephant in Chattisgarh state.
Summarized Alex Kirby of BBC News Online, “Witnesses say the elephant was repeatedly jabbed with spikes and struck with bamboo canes, after being run to exhaustion, tranquilized, and dragged between two tame elephants. His legs were tied,” Kirby continued, “as was the elephant’s head. Then his tusks were sawn off. He was left without food and water, and died 18 days later, apparently of stress, starvation, and thirst.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wildlife Trust of India, and People for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi unsuccessfully demanded that Barua be criminally prosecuted.
Shand meanwhile pursued further adventures in India, detailed in River Dog: A Journey Down The Brahmaputra (2004), in which he acknowledged eating dogs and at times enjoying beating dogs, and misidentified the dog-eating ethnic minorities of eastern India.
At the 2005 Kaziranga Centenary Celebrations, Shand reportedly promoted elephant football and elephant tug-of-war, then became involved in organizing elephant polo matches in Jaipur..
The Jaipur-based humane organization Help In Suffering and the Wildlife Trust of India had since August 2001 presented clinics for the elephants and their mahouts who ferry tourists up a steep hill to the Amber Fort, the major tourist attraction in the Jaipur area. Funds raised in part by the proceeds from Shand’s elephant polo matches enabled Help In Suffering to hold more frequent clinics. But the elephant polo matches became controversial in 2006-2007. The Elephant Family and Help In Suffering withdrew from involvement. The elephant polo matches were suspended in 2009-2010 due to litigation, but resumed as a tourist attraction in 2011.
Shand meanwhile refocused on elephant issues in Sumatra.
“A war is being waged across Asia,” Shand wrote for The Daily Mail on June 29, 2013. “In the face of relentless deforestation, elephants are being forced out of their natural habitats and they have no choice but to share their living space with humans. As the elephants’ forest home is destroyed, stressed and starving herds flee from the chainsaws straight into villages. They demolish everything in sight, trampling crops, flattening houses and often killing people. The cause is an innocently named product called palm oil. The blame lies firmly with the greed of the large corporations in the East that produce it as a cash crop to fuel the insatiable consumerism of the Western world.”
While filming a documentary about the palm oil issue, Shand recounted, “A helpless, emaciated baby male elephant called Raja, who was barely a year old, was found in a village, shackled with heavy chains to a tree. He had been taken hostage by the villagers, who were demanding compensation from the Sumatran government for the damage his family had done to their crops. He died alone, still chained to that tree, though The Elephant Family worked tirelessly for a week to negotiate his release.”