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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Hugging Baobabs and Elephants

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

Inspired by our trip around Botswana I have created a series of animal rider drawings.

Lesson Learned

In a Catholic school, they teach you about free will, moral obligation and things that make you feel guilty about everything else. As soon as you are out of those walls, you forget about most of them and you simply try to live a conscientious life as best as you can. One lesson that stuck to me though, was about the role of man as the stewards of nature—that we are responsible to everything nature has provided to us. I believed that. So, yes, I became sort of a tree hugger. When I saw a giant baobab in Kubu Island, I imagined wrapping my arms around it because I couldn't. They're huge! Each time I see elephants in the wild, there is always the strong urge to hug them.

A baobab in Kubu Island, Botswana
The famous ancient baobab in Kubu Island in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Botswana.

It could just be the Christian guilt, but it’s a pity that we have neglected our important role in taking care of our planet and all that live in it.

Even so, it is also a relief to know that some people still care and take action in reversing the damage we have caused. I have great hopes. As a minor contribution to their cause I painted a series of animals with their riders or stewards.

A watercolor painting of a cone-haired fairy riding an oryx.

Oryx Rider

The arid lands of the Kalahari is home to hundreds of giraffes, springboks and oryxes. With their long straight horns, muscular built and curious masked stares, the oryx, also called gemsbok, instantly caught my attention. Driving alongside herds of them, as they graze the desert, I began imagining a scene where a little fairy rides one of them. That image persisted for the rest of the trip until I whipped out my watercolor pad, paint and brushes and started painting. Yes, I came prepared for the trip.

A watercolor painting of a honey badger and a cone-haired fairy lying on its back.

Badger Rider

Our first wild visitor in the camp was a honey badger. Thinking it was a huge hungry cat, we were relieved—though surprised that the sneaky but not quite little critter came out from the black bushes while we were having our braai (Afrikaans for barbecue).

Honey badgers go berserk over beehives and are therefore considered threats to honey farmers. To them they are pests and so to rid of pests, they set traps resulting to numerous fatalities of badgers and other unsuspecting animals. Because of that badger populations all over in Africa are threatened. Next time you purchase a sweet jar of honey, please check the label if it is badger friendly. This means the honey came from responsible producers.

A watercolor painting of a cone-haired fairy riding a blue-shelled tortoise

Tortoise Rider

In safari parks, tortoises and dung beetles have the right of way. There is a reason why 30 kph is the speed limit. It is a serious penalty if you crushed one of them on the road. However in other countries, tortoise and turtle shells are made into musical instruments, medicines, used in divination, jewelry and even salad bowls! Their meat and eggs are also a delicacy.

Why can’t we just let them be? Is it because humans have long been puzzled by the inexplicable and fascinated by the divine and that perhaps we find the answers in other living creatures?

A watercolor painting of a cone-haired fairy and her pink zebra

Zebra Rider

With those graphic stripes, Zebras are just oddly pretty, aren’t they? So pretty, their skins get hung on walls and strewn on living room floors, as well as upholster sofas or throw pillows—basically a favorite home decor piece for those with eclectic tastes. What they do with the rest of the animal parts, I have no idea. Fortunately I have never encountered a zebra steak on a menu.

Did you know?

While humans have successfully domesticated horses, you cannot ride zebras? Their spines are not made for riding.

A watercolor painting of two cone-haired fairies sliding on a red elephant

Elephant Rider

Elephants are simply majestic! They command respect. Sadly, for centuries people did not give them the respect they deserve. Ivory trade has greatly reduced these creatures’ population in the wild. Some elephant farms disguised as animal sanctuaries or rehabilitation centers are used mainly for tourist-money-making ventures. If you have been to Thailand or India, you probably have visited one of them and even rode one colorful elephant and made selfies to show off in Instagram. Had I been uninformed I probably would have done that as well. So hey, I could be guilty as anyone else. I also said I have always wanted to hug elephants, haven’t I?

The first time we got too close to an elephant in Kruger Park, it nearly rammed us. Since then, I decided a telephoto lens would be a better alternative. For now, in my whimsical world of animal riders, they can have super fun on this happy red elephant slide!

A watercolor painting of a cone-haired fairy crying over a dead kudu

Kudu Rider

In South Africa, hunting farms are everywhere and legal. They cater mostly to hunters from America and Europe who are more than willing to pay thousands of dollars for a kill and a trophy, usually the head of the animal, to bring home. These farms are populated with elephants, different species of antelopes and predators, that were mostly bred in captivity and then released “in the wild” for hunting activities. Traps or bait meats lure the animals and on the right time and right spot, shot in the heart with the hunter’s preferred weapon like guns or bow arrows.

There is a lot of debate about the morality of hunting for sport, which I do not want to get into. All I can say is that it is cruel and it is painful to know of such activities all for the sake of thrill, pride and worst of all, money.

The more I come closer to these beautiful creatures, the more I am loving them. It has been such a great source of inspiration.

Living in South Africa

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to encounter and observe wild animals in their natural habitat. The more I come closer to these beautiful creatures, the more I am loving them. It has been such a great source of inspiration particularly in my art. It is a terrible thought when these wonderful animals no longer roam the planet. If I could, I would immortalize them in my photographs and especially in my artworks.


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