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  • Writer's pictureAnja Dalby

The loss of living canvases

When the biodiversity of our planet shrinks, so too does the source of inspiration for design. Each species lost represents a unique form, color, and function that once sparked the imagination to design something wonderful. From the patterns of a butterfly's wings to the graceful movements of a whale, wildlife has long served as an endless source of creativity. The loss of these living canvases not only robs us of creative inspiration, but also limits our ability to innovate sustainable solutions modeled after the efficiency and resilience found in nature. Without the rich diversity of life to draw from, design risks becoming stagnant, robbed of the fresh perspectives and uniqueness that only nature can provide.

Once in a while, something lands on our desk that really sets us on fire, projects that touch us on a personal level, and that was exactly what happened to me not so long ago. 

Elephant Illustration

Outlanders was creating a series of wildlife illustrations in support of the conservation work that is being done by animal protection organizations to safeguard endangered species worldwide. I sat down to work on the copy for the project, not knowing what a depressing journey I was embarking on, and how much it would end up affecting me.

Giraffe Illustration

A bleak picture quickly emerged during my research on the topic. The kind of picture which involves coldblooded poachers slaughtering majestic animals solely to cut off a claw, a tooth, or perhaps their tusks. Of humans spreading so far and wide that entire species go extinct just to make room for them. Of trophy hunters who care nothing for animals except for those that hang, dead, beheaded and straight from the taxidermist, on their walls. Of climate change that makes former glorious habitats useless to vulnerable species, and so they simply cease to exist. It was the saddest research session I’ve done for a project, ever. 

Rhino Illustration

One aspect that really made an impression on me was the story of Najin and Fatu. They are a beautiful and gentle duo of African Northern White Rhino, the last of their kind in the world. Because they are so precious, they live under 24-hour armed guard in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya where they are safe from poachers. As they are mother and daughter, with none of them having the physical capacity to carry a pregnancy to term, it was long believed that once they passed, their entire species would disappear for good with them; a textbook example of functional extinction. 

Najin and Fatu rhino

Najin and Fatu

However, I really perked up recently when I was looking for an update on how the two beauties are doing. A revolutionary IVF treatment is currently being carried out, bringing hope that the Northern White may not be doomed just yet. With sperm harvested from the last two living males of the species before they passed away, and eggs extracted from Fatu, a female rhino of the closely related Southern White species will act as a surrogate for the pregnancy. A rhino pregnancy takes 16 months, and the medical team will take at least another six months to find the perfect surrogate, so it will be yet a couple of years before we know if it will actually work - but the treatment has been tested on other rhino subspecies successfully, which is a very positive sign. 

So why write about wildlife conservation on a website which is all about design and branding? Because at the core of everything we do is our values and beliefs, and this particular campaign hit us all right in the feels. Every now and then, we encounter something that inspires us deeply, and this was one of those moments. Ami Vitale, a National Geographic photographer who documented the death of Sudan - the last living male Northern White - describes perfectly why we get so emotional on this topic:

“Without rhinos and elephants and other wildlife, we suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities. When we see ourselves as part of nature, we understand that saving nature is really about saving ourselves.”

Ami Vitale portrait

Want to help? You can support wildlife conservation through the WWF Adopt an Animal programme, and even receive a cute themed toy as a thank you for your donation. WWF also has a list of actions you can take, to make your own impact and help their efforts. 

If you would like to support Najin and Fatu directly, you can donate to the Ol Pejeta Rhino Recovery campaign here.

Tiger Illustration


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