Here we are finally catching up with a post we have been meaning to share for some time, relating to the unveiling of 6 new patchwork murals by Louis Masai which he created over the summer at ZSL London Zoo as part of their pioneering EDGE of Existance programme. With Louis it’s always been animals really, particularly focusing on the sense of movement and the different dynamics of fur, feathers, scales etc. Through exploring the different characteristics of animals through painting Louis learnt more about the animals he was painting and soon realized that a lot of his subjects where on the Endangered List, which only furthered his desire to continue documenting his interest in wildlife. Providing his true calling in life to try to bring attention to things that can be done often quite easily if people were just aware.
Louis sets to use his art as a platform for people to question convention and social practice, these perceptions doesn’t resonate with him as a person or an artist. Painting these animals allows Louis the chance to add a message, thinking outside the box with how people can challenge conventional norms by doing just that. Louis knows he can’t stop elephants dying, and neither should he carry such a burden, but by painting them he can hopefully make people aware and encourage others to help make change happen. A beautiful painting accompanied by a little “Did you know…”? Small changes can and do make a difference. Louis does not consider himself and deems it inaccurate when he is referred to as an “activist”, he is just trying to reach as many people as he possibly can, to be pigeon-holed in such a manner is indeed completely counter-productive to the wider ecological issues Louis sets to draw attention to.
Which is why it is no surprise to find Louis Masai, working in partnership with environmental organization Synchronicty Earth – who Louis has collaborated with on a number of projects over the last 5 years – and the #ConservationOptimism campaign, taking the time to paint these murals. Louis Masai even approached ZSL London Zoo himself to offer his services and to create the works in his own time and at his own expense offering the chance for both ZSL and Louis Masai to raise awareness to some of natures most threatened unique individuals. What they have achieved is a fantastic addition to an instituition that does so much vital work for conservation and these murals will certainly capture peoples attention upon passing.
The series of striking works were created live over a two week period with the murals depicting a diverse selection of species by ZSL’s conservationist team as being particularly Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE), meaning their loss would essentially mean the dissappearance of an entire section of the planets nautrual biodiversity. Launching in 2017 the EDGE of Existance Programme uses scientific research to rank the world’s most Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered species across a broad range of categories and criteria, while simultaneously funding early-career conservaionists working to save these species in the wild through the international EDGE fellowship scheme.
It is also interesting to see how Louis Masai has made exemplary use of the space available to make his subjects fit the array of brutalist artchitecture – the walls of ZSL London Zoo’s Nuffield Building – home to the Institute of Zoology, ZSL’s respected research hub – available and make them look so natural in the setting. With the Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth placed hanging on the tallest section of wall available, the Indian Gharial set in a section of light and dark acknowledging how they often live in sewer pipes, the Lake Oku Clawed Frog positioned as if hanging casually on the wall and our favourite placement choice is with the Green Sawfish set as if a shaft of light is shining through the water illuminating the scene.
Louis Masai being interviewed by Cheli Sinclair – the Director of Conservation Optimism – at the unveiling of the 6 striking murals.
A depiction of a Philippine Eagle one of the worlds largest Birds of Prey. The species was formerly known as the Monkey-Eating Eagle as reports from natives told that they preyed exclusively on monkeys. This has since been proved to not to be the case and recent studies have revealed they prey on a wide variety of animals ranging from rodents, pigs and monitor lizards resulting in the species being renamed. Philippine Eagles are monogamous and mate for life, unless one of the pair dies and they have a breeding cycle that last for two years. Endemic to the Philippines the species small and increasingly dwindling population has been feared close to extinction in the last 40 years. Positive steps have been taken the Eagle acquiring status of the National Bird of the Philippines which has greatly increased awareness of the bird and its plight. The species are under threat from declining and increasingly fragmented habitat, through commercial timber distraction, expanding agriculture and mining practices, hunting, pesticide accumulation and even severe weather events such as Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. There are an estimated 250-270 Philippine Eagles left in the wild and the species has been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN List. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
A patchwork section featuring diamonds offering insight in to how mining practices are threatening this species survival.
One of Louis Masai’s Bees from his ongoing “Save the Bees” body of works which came about when he decided that painting an Elephant may make a great picture but the vast majority of people who engage with a painting are not actually going to see an elephant, certainly not in the wild, so what can people relate to and engage with? Who hasn’t seen a Bee or been stung by one? its something everyone can relate to. Additionally Bees are often used as the subject of Environmental Greenwashing in which governments and groups use Bees as a distraction for other environmental concerns and initiatives which aren’t doing so well or anything at all about. By using Bees as the subject of environmental change Louis is subverting this convention. The second key subject matter that stands out are his patchwork subjects through which Louis draws upon the idea of animals being reduced to nothing more than a child’s toy, a representation to the memory of itself, presenting a chilling forewarning against the damage and destruction mankind is perpetrating around the globe. Over time Louis has set to infuse the Bees with these patchwork subjects in which the Bees are depicted stitching up the toy representation acting as the guardians of natures survival, a symbol of how essential the harmony of the planets’ biodiversity needs to be protected and preserved. Here the Bees act as a metaphor “for people to wake up and sort this shit out, the Bees can hold it together, why can’t we”?
A depiction of a Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth which is the smallest of the three-toed sloth family and was only recognised in 2001 as distinct species. This species is endemic found only on Isla Escudo de Veraguas which separated from mainland Panama some 9,000 years ago. Marking the small member of its genus due to the phenomenon of island dwarfism and ideally suited for its life in the mangroves, proving adapt swimmers despite their defining slow movements. Tending to stay up among the trees for up to a week at time – largely only coming down to defecate – the pygmy three-toed sloth avoids predators largely through stealth and camouflage, even producing its own unique species of Trichophilus algae which is believed to be symbiotic, offering concealment at no detriment to the sloth’s health. However sadly despite all these features which make the species so adapt at surviving in the wild it is habitat destruction drastically reducing its already small range, this species has been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN List. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
A patchwork section featuring chainsaws offering a sad reminder of what it is that will reduce this species to nothing more than a representation of its former existence.
A depiction of a Green Sawfish which is the largest of the Sawfish species which are characterized by their large saw-like rostra which is used to detect electrical signals and stun potential prey. All 5 species of Sawfish are listed within the top 10 EDGE Sharks. The Green Sawfish can live for up to 50 years and can grow to a length of 6-7m. Adults tend to inhabit shallow coastal areas but have been known to frequent depths of up to 70m in offshore waters, whilst juveniles spend their early years in shallow estuarine systems. This species has seen dramatic population declines further exacerbated due to the species slow life histories. Their defining jagged toothed rostra puts all species of Sawfish at severe risk of becoming entangled in fishing nets and large numbers of Sawfish are caught as bycatch from the fishing industry, the principal reason for such a high decline in numbers and why the Green Sawfish has been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN List. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
A patch showing a bag of chips and a chilling reminder of what practices and outlets are in part responsible for the decline of this species and where our engagement with such trades can have such brutal consequences.
A depiction of an Indian Gharial is a crocodile on the brink of extinction and defined by its long thin jaws it uses to catch fish and the large bulbous growth known as a ‘ghara’ on the tip of a male’s snout. It is this particular feature that lends its name to the species, with the name ‘Gharial’ taking its root in its resemblance to the traditional Indian pot known as the ‘ghara’. Gharials are the only species of Crocodile with such an obvious characteristic allowing the sex of the animal to be easily identified. These animals were once widespread across the entire Indian subcontinent and are now reduced to a mere 5 fragmented and severely depleted populations across India and Nepal with estimations placing the number of wild Gharials at 250. Such dramatic decline in population numbers and distribution extent are due to a number of reasons which place this unique crocodile at threat of existence placing this species as Critically Endangered by the IUCN List. Firstly the damming of rivers across their range is altering their habitat drastically as Gharials cannot walk on land as well as other Crocodilian species. Secondly increased agricultural and grazing practices from farming limits and impacts upon their nesting and basking habitats. Thirdly Gharial are impacted by fishing pressure due to lack of prey from over-fishing and additionally being accidentally caught in fishing nets. Fourthly they are hunted by local fisherman for their ‘ghara’, penises and fat which is used in traditional medicines. Finally local tribes collect their eggs for food. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
A depiction of an Olm which is Europe’s only cave-dwelling vertebrate and in addition to several unique evolutionary adaptations that make the species suited for underground life the Olm can survive without food for a decade at a time and live for 58 years or more. This entirely aquatic species are sightless and hunt in absolute darkness utilising a powerful sensory system of smell, taste, hearing and electro-sensitivity. Additionally as well as laying up to 70 individual eggs on the undersides of aquatic stones in some cases the eggs are retained in the body and two fully formed young are produced. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
A depiction of a Lake Oku Clawed Frog which is found exclusively in a small crater lake (Lake Oku) in Cameroon distributed over a mere 2km2. Inhabiting such a tiny range as well as recurring mass mortality events has resulted in this species being listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN List. At current the species is still abundant at Lake Oku but subject to several potential threats to its continued existence including: Chytridiomycosis a fungus which is a threat to all amphibians across the region, the introduction of fish to the lake to meet the demands for protein from local communities, as well as nutrient pollution and siltation in the water resulting from degradation of the surrounding forest habitat. Lake Oku and its surrounding forest are protected by the government, however enforcement of such legislation is complex and controversial and in light of this captive conservation populations have been established with ZSL London achieving the first captive breeding of the species in 2014. You can learn more about this species and why it is on the EDGE list at the ZSL website (covered here)
You can find out more about Louis Masai’s Conservation Murals.
You can can find out more about the ZSL EDGE of Existence programme.
You can find out more about the work Synchronicity Earth do.
You can also find out about the Conservation Optimisim Movement.
A striking mosaic in the Asiatic Lion enclosure.
A second striking mosaic in the Asiatic Lion enclosure.
‘Winnie and Lt. Colebourn’ – In 1914 whilst en route from Ontario Canada to the war in Europe purchased a black bear cub for $20 from a hunter who had killed her mother. Lieutenant Colebourn named her Winnie after his hometown of Winnipeg and brought her to England where his regiment the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade was training on Salisbury Plain. the bear became the regiments mascot. When his regiment was deployed to France Winnie was left at London Zoo for safekeeping. Lieutenant Colebourn originally intended to take Winnie back to Canada with him when the war was over and he would often visit her when on leave from the combat zone in France. However when the war ended Lieutenant Colebourn donated Winnie to London Zoo in appreciation of the care that had been take of her in those 4 years and in recognition of Winnie’s popularity with visitors. Two such visitors were author A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin who frequently came to visit Winnie and provided the inspiration for the name to his fictional Character ‘Winnie the Pooh’.
Marilyn London Zoo’s resident Two-Toed Sloth.
Penguin Beach, home to London’s colony of Humboldt Penguins.
The Snowdon Aviary.