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Elephants for Africa gets aid from Towson artist

Elephants for Africa gets aid from Towson artist
Towson artist Emma Kaufmann poses for a portrait with a painting of elephants she made that was being sold to raise funds for an organization called Elephants For Africa. (Noah Scialom / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Elephants and Baltimore is not a combination that comes naturally to mind. Elephants for Africa wants to change that. The United Kingdom-based charity has launched an awareness campaign and a Towson artist is playing a key part.

Elephants for Africa is running a fundraiser during the holiday season to Jan. 9. The person who donates the most money will receive "Elephant Pals," an original piece of art by Emma Kaufmann. The 18-by-24-inch acrylic ink on special watercolor paper depicts two African elephants nuzzling each other.

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On a cold day in a coffee shop in Towson, the warm African veld seems like a nice place to be. Kaufmann still speaks with a British accent, even though she came to Baltimore with her husband, Aaron Carass, a Johns Hopkins medical researcher, in 2000. They have two daughters, ages 12 and 14, and live in Towson.

"I specialize in animal art," said Kaufmann, from wild animal pictures and commissioned pet portraits to home décor items, such as animals printed on pillows and mugs.

Kaufmann has a degree in art history and worked in art galleries in London before taking art lessons herself. She originally painted in oils but now prefers acrylic ink and watercolors. She isn't sure why she is attracted to animals, particularly animals in the wild.

"They are different, interesting subjects," said Kaufmann, who describes her style as "expressionist." She uses loose brush strokes and bright colors and, she said, "My pictures aren't naturalistic. They depict the animal and my feelings about it."

She works out of a studio in her home and sells her art through Studio Emma Kaufmann, a business she founded in 2009, on etsy.com/shop/studioemmakaufmann. When Kaufmann was asked to donate the picture to the Elephants for Africa fundraiser, she was happy to do so.

"I want to bring more awareness to endangered animals," she said.

So does Dr. Kate Evans, especially to American audiences that might not have not heard of Elephants for Africa. She founded the charity in 2007 in England and Wales with the goal of conserving, protecting and monitoring elephants in the wild.

"We are [involved in] conservation of the African elephant through research and education," Evans said in an email interview.

Evans has a doctorate with a concentration on adolescent male African elephant behavior from the University of Bristol. She splits her time between her home in Gloucestershire and Botswana, which has a large population of elephants. From a field camp at Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, she studies the ecological and social needs of elephants and partners with the neighboring community of Khumaga.

"Our holistic approach to understanding the requirements of both the elephants and the communities living alongside wildlife is a road towards decreasing conflict and increasing coexistence," Evans said.

According to Evans, the long-term survival of African elephants is being threatened. "The current main threats are the illegal ivory trade and human-wildlife conflict," she said, noting that ivory poaching claims 100 to 200 elephants per day and that elephant-human habitat encounters are on the rise.

The Maryland Zoo has partnered with Elephants for Africa for several years. Mike McClure, the zoo's general curator, said it has contributed between $2,000 and $4,000 annually to the organization's research, and that he has worked directly with Evans.

In 2010, McClure visited the organization's field camp in Botswana, and he sees her at least once a year at the Elephant Managers Association meeting.

"She talks about elephants in the wild, I talk about elephants in captivity. We have access to our elephants 24/7, and can provide her with information she might not have," said McClure, whose area of expertise is elephants.

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For one example, Evans was developing a database of footprint measurements to correlate with height and size of the animal in the field. "We collected samples from our elephants to validate her database," McClure said.

McClure said that organizations such as Elephants for Africa are critical to the protection and preservation of endangered species. "They are the connection between the field work that is going on and helping the local community understand the value of the animals," he said.

"They work on the cutting edge," McClure said. "Without field projects like [Elephants for Africa's], we don't have much hope of saving the elephants."

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