2022 started on a high. I had just wrapped up a Christmas fundraiser to adopt Rhea, a former circus elephant from Wildlife SOS. At this time, COVID was still raging and travel was a distant memory. I could only dream of meeting the animals that @ayansartforconservation supported, but never imagined it would become a reality soon.
But, before I knew it, in February itself, Governments around the world started to announce relaxed travel restrictions. So that very spring break, my family and I took to the opportunity to travel and we visited Wildlife SOS's Agra Bear Rescue facility and Elephant Conservation & Care Centre. I had been supporting Wildlife SOS for over a year and felt I knew so much about the animals, that the only thing missing, was to actually meet them. It was a dream-come-true experience to see Wildlife SOS's work happening right before my eyes. In the Agra Bear Rescue Facility, we saw how food is prepared for the bears, and learned about how exactly their rescue takes place. Due to the amazing efforts of Wildlife SOS, they have eradicated the dancing bear practice in India, so the rescue center acts as a retirement home for former dancing bears who are too traumatized to be reintroduced into the wild. I was so moved by the stories of the bears, that I decided to adopt a sloth bear called Arthur, affectionately known by the staff as "Harry Potter". He has a very playful personality, and greeted us at the fence of his large enclosure.
Arthur © Wildlife SOS
On that same trip, we also got to visit the Elephant Hospital in Agra. Rescued circus, temple, or begging elephants are treated here, if their health condition is very poor. The hospital is armed to the teeth with machinery, even including a weighing scale for the massive animals, and a crane to elevate elephants for further inspection. The recently rescued Lakshmi, nicknamed India's skinniest elephant, resided at the hospital at the time of our visit. With the help of the hospital, rescued elephants are more likely to make a speedy recovery from their prior appalling conditions.
Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation & Care Centre & Elephant Hospital, Agra
Another life changing experience that happened this year was visiting the Thula Thula game reserve in South Africa. Its founder, Lawrence Anthony and his wife Francoise wrote the very books that ignited my passion for Wildlife Conservation in the first place. I have been working and communicating with Thula Thula for over 3 years, so finally visiting it was, to say the least, magical. Muzi, our ranger, helped us connect with and understand each elephant we saw. From the playful Brendon, to the steady Nana, each elephant's personality shone through. I was also lucky enough to go on a drive with Khaya, another ranger, and understand how rangers track animals - watch out for the blog coming soon on this very subject! It was super fun to meet all the animals that I had heard so much about from the books, and on some level, I felt like I knew them personally. At Thula Thula, I decided to adopt 2 more elephants with the money raised through the sale of my art. Being there and interacting with the herd, allowed me to choose which elephants to adopt at a very personal level. Muzi suggested Brendon because he kept trying to show himself off to us, as if he wanted to be adopted. I also chose to adopt Susanna because of his heartbreaking story. He was caught in a snare when he was just a calf, and the tip of his trunk and part of his ear are lost now. Despite this, he remains a very playful and mischievous little elephant.
Thula Thula Trip, July 2022
Right after my trip to Thula Thula, I was really excited to learn that I had won a Gold Award at the Singapore International Art Competition 2022. This award was very special because the theme was Humanity and Nature - very close to my heart. I drew a picture of urbanization leeching the color out of our natural Earth.
Vibrance Vs. Vanity, Gold Award at Singapore International Art Competition 2022
I also created a lot of art in 2022, and some of my favorite at that. One piece that I am really proud of is my Shadow-mane, which depicts a completely fantasy aquatic lion. My pencil work and shading on this sketch, I thought, was some of the best I had done. This piece shows how my art has evolved since I started this project, as I experiment with new techniques and subjects. Another sketch that I am proud of is my sketch of Thula Thula rhino Sissi. I feel that the shading, while simple, really used contrast better than I have before. Last, but not least, I love the Icelandic Horse I drew right after my summer holiday, because the detail on his mane was a new level of skill for me.
Left to Right: Shadow-mane, Icelandic Horse, Sissi the baby rhino
School reopened in the Fall, and I got to work on a Diwali campaign to raise awareness and support for Wildlife SOS's bears. The truth was, I really wanted to adopt Molly - Arthur's best friend. This inseparable duo, was rescued together, and love playing in their special enclosure. Thanks to the generous support of all my readers and art patrons, I was able to raise enough money through my peacock-inspired festive card series to adopt Molly for a year. You can read her story here.
In November, I was suddenly very fortunate to get articles and interviews by two local Singapore publications - Tabla & Expat Living - who helped spread the word of Wildlife Conservation through art. Shortly after, the GupCup, a popular podcast in Singapore, also helped tell my story. All of these interviews and articles spread awareness for wildlife conservation and helped me raise funding through my Christmas campaign to support land expansion at Thula Thula. Thula Thula expanded their land, thus, they need new bush cameras to protect the new ground from poachers. Therefore, we are planning to donate funding for some of these cameras, to help their expansion be a roaring success.
In early December, I did an Orangutan Q&A with Year 2 & 3 students at Oak Lodge School in the UK, through the Born Free Foundation, of which I am a Youth Ambassador. This was wonderful to do, as the questions from these students keep me on my toes. Questions like, "How fast can orangutans run?" were really fun to research.
2022 had started on a high, and ended even better as I received two pieces of amazing news. First, one of my longest supporters - Endi Asmira - adopted a spunky koala joey - Kookie - on behalf of @ayansartforconservation, helping protect a species that is officially declared endangered as of February 2022. Kookie was tragically orphaned when her mother was hit by a semi-truck on the highway. She was found crawling across the street and was rehabilitated at Friends of the Koala in Northern Rivers, Australia.
Kookie, the Koala Joey
Second, I got news that Wildlife SOS, gave me the honor of their Rising Star volunteer award, for the work done on awareness building, fund raising and the commitment to visit their facilities.
2022 has been fantastic. With all the wonderful experiences, animals adopted, art created and causes supported, this year has truly been special. I look forward to what 2023 will bring to the world of wildlife conservation through art.