With many of Africa’s biodiverse ecosystems under threat, Space for Giants works to preserve these vital areas and demonstrate the importance of the elephants that occupy them. Lexi Bowes-Lyon, the organization’s director of philanthropy, puts forth her knowledge and networks to help obtain a secure future for these animals and their landscapes.
Q: What made you decide to help elephants?
A: The two reasons that really pushed me into actively getting involved in philanthropy were primarily that I was always fascinated by the role that elephants play within their own society and their importance in conservation as a whole. Elephants are incredibly smart animals with complex emotions and family structures like our own. Understanding these animals and watching how they function within their own societies is intriguing and endlessly didactic. Secondly, elephants are a keystone species, which means they are vital to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Much like other keystone species, when you upset the population numbers, the cumulative effects can be catastrophic—elephants are the real assets in their landscapes. They expand ecological diversity, and they drive local and national economies.
Q: With what authorities must you negotiate?
A: Space for Giants works in eight different countries in Africa and we work closely with the political leaders of each country to ensure we can do our work effectively and quickly. Africa’s 8,400 protected areas cover 4.3 million square kilometres—they are ecologically and economically vital to Africa, and to the planet. But they are grossly under-resourced in the face of competing immediate development priorities like education, infrastructure, agricultural production, and health. Governments are often forced to choose between long-term conservation goals and short-term economic gains, so the social and environmental value of protected areas is disappearing as immediate human development needs take precedence over conservation. This has devastating ecological, social, and economic consequences, including potential species extinction on an unparalleled scale. Convincing governments that conservation can bring economic benefits to local communities and their countries is something that Space for Giants is always working hard on.
Q: What’s been your greatest accomplishment for this cause?
A: Our greatest achievement has been to align our conservation goals with the goals of African heads of state through the creation of the Giants Club, our unique forum that combines political, financial, and technical muscle behind the goal of protecting at least half of Africa’s elephants their landscapes. The presidents of the Giants Club are the heads of state of Kenya, Botswana, Gabon, and Uganda.