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Happy Birthday DSWF!

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

1984. No, not George Orwell’s dystopian and cautionary novel – the actual year. It was BIG. There was Band Aid. The miner’s strike. The Financial Times introduced its stock exchange index of the top 100 companies. Virgin Atlantic made its inaugural flight. Ghostbusters, Gremlins, and The Terminator took cinema box offices by storm whilst ‘Footloose’, ‘What’s Love Got to do With It’, and ‘When Doves Cry’ dominated the charts.

And on April 25, a small charity was registered and founded by one of the world’s leading wildlife artists, David Shepherd CBE. What would become David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) was born.

So, if you’ve been following our socials or read our previous blog, you’ll know that 2024 is a big year for us and you’ve probably put two and two together and realised today is therefore our 40th birthday!

However, our 40 years of work pale in comparison when compared to the sixty years and more dedicated by David to the world’s most endangered species.

David’s Passion

As a character and individual, David was larger than life. One of the things that comes up repeatedly by those remembering him is his warm laugh, which would occasionally break into an uncontrollable giggle. There is little doubt this was fueled by what seemed like an insatiable sense of wonder and delight in the world. He was larger than life because he loved life – and he wore his passions on his sleeve with vibrant tenacity. It’s one of the things that made him such an effective communicator and advocate for wild animals.

David’s journey to becoming both a wildlife artist and a conservationist was not straightforward. His initial dream was to become a game warden, drawn by his deep interest and love of Africa and wild animals. And his other loves of both steam trains and the military are well documented. His path was not yet completely determined, and several potential directions beckoned. But fate intervened when he visited a waterhole in Tanzania that had been poisoned by poachers, leaving 255 zebra dead along its banks.

Filled with unbridled sorrow and dismay, his passion for wildlife became his purpose, and he blazed a trail from then on as one of the wild world’s most outspoken and ardent voices, using his art to change things for the better, as well as raise both awareness and funds for conservation projects. You can find out more about David’s life here.

David with an elephant orphan at the Elephant Orphange Project, Zambia, which he founded and opened. *DSWF does not endorse handling or close proximity to wildlife. This represents a santuary environment with trained professionals.

David’s Art

David’s talent and passion saw him quickly recognised as a gifted and talented wildlife artist. As his fame grew, he was drawn into a world of celebrity, which he embraced – recognising its incredible value as a platform for advocacy and bringing about real change. It’s rare to find any archive footage of David when he is not speaking passionately about the threats faced to the world’s wildlife and asking us all to do more. He urged us all to acknowledge that tomorrow would be too late.

Art always has been and always will be our language here at DSWF. It comes from our very roots. And even before the Foundation, it was the platform David used to bring about change. In 1973, ‘Tiger Fire’ raised £127,000 (equivalent to over £1.3 million today) for Indira Gandhi’s ‘Operation Tiger’. Relentlessly, David used funds raised by the sales of his artwork to create a better and safer wild world – always referencing the debt he felt he owed his wild subjects for the life and career he loved so much.

Study for ‘Tiger Fire’ by David Shepherd, CBE.

David’s art is stunning, but perhaps not revolutionary at first glance. Yet, the seeds of ‘artivism’ (using artistic talent to fight against injustice and world issues) can be seen in the titles of his pieces, such as ‘The Ivory is Theirs’, ‘The Rhino’s Last Stand’, and ‘Lone Wanderers of the Arctic’.

You can view the selection of David Shepherd prints, limited editions, and originals currently available through DSWF here.

David’s Legacy

We’re incredibly proud that DSWF is still headed and intrinsically linked to the Shepherd family. Through their dedicated leadership and stewardship, they have shaped DSWF into what it is today and taken our message and work to new audiences and generations.

David’s granddaughter, Georgina Lamb, is our CEO, and her mother and David’s daughter, Melanie Lamb, heads our Board of Trustees, as well as being our former CEO. Mandy Shepherd, also David’s daughter, has been a stringent part of DSWF as a Wildlife Art Ambassador, and a renowned wildlife artist and conservationist in her own right. And Georgina’s sister, and David’s granddaughter, Emily Lamb, is also recognised worldwide as a groundbreaking wildlife and environmental artist that has supported us constantly throughout her career.

A Significant Year and Honorable Mentions

1984 and 2024 are significant years in conservation elsewhere too. We know it’s not often that charities mention other charities, especially within their own field – but we think it’s more important than ever to come together, united, to champion our joint cause. And we’ve already achieved great things together over the last few decades.

Born Free

We’re not the only conservation charity with a strong family connection and leadership that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Born Free was founded in 1984 by Virginia McKenna DBE, Bill Travers OBE, and their son, Will Travers OBE. Bill and Virginia perhaps most famously played Joy and George Adamson on screen in 1966 in the film of ‘Born Free’, depicting the true story and book of the same name, of the Adamson’s rehabilitation back into the wild of Elsa, an orphaned lion cub taken into their care.

However, it was the wildlife film, ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’ (1969) that would lead to their vocations changing from Hollywood to fighting for a better world for animals. In the film, they worked with a young African elephant calf called Pole Pole (pronounced Poly Poly) and were distressed to learn that the Kenyan government intended to gift her to London Zoo after filming. Despite doing everything they could to prevent this, Pole Pole was sent to London.

In 1982, they visited a stressed and strained Pole Pole at the zoo, who reached out for them with her trunk in clear remembrance of them. Virginia and Bill were compelled to start a campaign to give Pole Pole the life she deserved, but in 1982, aged just sixteen (African elephants will live 70 years or more in the wild), Pole Pole died.

Determined not to let her death be in vain, Virginia, Bill, and their eldest son, Will, formed Zoo Check in 1984 – which evolved into the Born Free we know today.

DSWF and Born Free have worked together and often leant their support and influence to legally protect wild animals. Both organisations played pivotal roles in getting the 2018 UK Ivory Act through parliament and are campaigning for a ban on the import of hunting trophies.

Earlier, in 2009, 50 Born Free lion statues were painted by leading Kenyan artists in a campaign to raise awareness for the East African country’s threatened lion population. The statue sponsored by Kenyan Airlines, was hand painted by David Shepherd.

And on a lighter note, in 2022, DSWF and Born Free joined together with agency Pangolin PR, to call for the creation of the first ever pangolin emoji – which we’d still love to see!

David Shepherd with the Kenyan Airlines lion in support of Born Free.

Jane Goodall

Another landmark birthday celebrated in April 2024 was that of Jane Goodall, the groundbreaking primatologist and anthropologist, who turned 90 at the beginning of the month. It is not overstating to say that Dr. Goodall, DBE, revolutionised how we study animals in the wild (her hands on approach was considered very controversial in 1960) – but thanks to her and her work, our understanding of how complex animals were was transformed. For it was Jane Goodall who first observed wild chimpanzees using tools – a simple stick in this case – to harvest termites.

She was also likely the first to ever describe wild animals as having their own culture – something we widely accept today for many species, from elephants to insects.

In ‘The Book of Hope’, she also set a precedent of not giving up and calling us all to action, when she said:

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make. The greatest threat to our future is apathy. You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.

Ultimately, her message is that even now, we should still carry hope that we can get through and overcome the challenges presented by the climate crisis.

Not only are chimpanzees a core species for DSWF, at the centre of the project we support and fund in Guinea, but rather fittingly, one of the animals Jane Goodall first studied in Tanzania back in 1960, she just happened to name David!

Perhaps serendipitously, it was also in 1960 that David Shepherd was commissioned by the RAF in Kenya to paint his first depiction of wildlife – a rhino on a runway. Who knew that 1960 and 2024 would be so directly linked with the future of conservation and those driving it!

Education is one of our core pillars here at DSWF, which is why we were incredibly proud to join Jane Goodall’s ‘Roots and Shoots’ programme in 2012 to empower young people through wildlife education.

You can also find Jane Goodall’s most recent children’s book ‘Pangolina’ recommended in our book club.

DSWF Today

In forty years, we’ve raised over £13 million for vital wildlife projects and programmes spanning seventeen countries across Africa and Asia. We’re only a small team – but our holistic approach to conservation enables us to always see the big picture. And with you, our incredible supporters on board, this small, dedicated team becomes one of the biggest, most impactful, effectual, and emphatic wildlife charities in the world. There’s nothing we can’t achieve together. We will continue to FIGHT wildlife crime and bring those harming the natural world to justice. We will PROTECT iconic endangered species in their natural habitats, where they belong. And we will ENGAGE all, from world governments to the smallest community classrooms, in our impassioned mission to make our incredible wild world a better place.

We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you SO much for an incredible 40 years. If you’d like to wish us a happy birthday by supporting some of our current work, you’ll find links below. Here’s to the next four decades of leading the conversation about conservation and celebrating our wonderful artistic heritage.

Donate to DSWF’s S.O.S.(L) – Save Our Snow Leopard’s Appeal

Celebrate our 40th birthday by adopting one of our core species.

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