Mark Roland Shand, 62, was a remarkable character. Sadly he died yesterday in New York after a charity auction, he had been at Sothebys raising money for his passion, saving the Endangered Asian Elephant with his charity, Elephant Family. Everything Mark did was serious, funny or in British terms, plain eccentric. His godfather, Mark Birley, who introduced me to Mark, said that he had his father's, Major Bruce Shand's, sense of humor, as do his sisters Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Annabel Elliot.
I first met Mark when he was 19, a handsome adventurous English blonde young man with tousled hair, coming back from Australia, through New York, after he had been asked to leave school in England. Mark stayed with us in New York for a year, bringing his friend the Verdura Jewelry dealer, Harry Fane. The fun and laughter began, and Shandy moved in with our family!
Saving the elephants became Mark's focus after he had started a successful business, collecting and selling vintage Cartier designs with Harry Fane. How Mark fell in love with Tara the elephant I don't know. Knowing Mark, he just decided to tell the story of how elephants are in danger of extinction, by riding his adopted elephant, Tara, across India. As he rode, waving to crowds from Tara's neck and giant ears, he and Tara made their way through remote villages and large Indian towns. Both blissfully happy, with the world's media riding along with them, beaming out images of them swimming in rivers and crossing large highways. Mark's diary became a best selling travel book, Tara the Elephant, and the film is a Discovery Channel documentary.
After Tara retired Mark sent her to, and supported, an elephant sanctuary in India. I lost touch with him over the years, but the world knew what Mark was up to as his charity fundraisers became famous, winning excellence awards. The hot summer in London of 2010 saw a herd of 260 brightly painted elephants placed all over the parks and landmarks. The Elephant Parade sculptures were auctioned off for large sums to save the Asian Elephant Family, and support conservation projects across Asia. The Animal Ball in London, 2012, raised 600,000 pounds, and finally the Big Egg Hunt in New York, 2014, raised over a million dollars. Supported by friends and followers, Mark, the eccentric traveler, became loved and admired by conservationists, as he encouraged the world to help him save the elephants and contribute to conservation.
Losing Mark is a tragedy. I will always remember Mark, and how he turned his adventures into inspiration and conservation. It is said that an elephant never forgets -- we must remember to support the Elephant Family that he created!