Was it a coincidence? Was it a PR stunt? Was this a case of magic realism shaping reality? Do elephants really surf, and did this elephant lose his surfboard somewhere off the east coast? Well, it would seem that pigs might not fly but elephants definitely surf.
There’s a new club out there for thrill seekers. Its called ‘The Ten Mile Out Club’ and it’s founding member is a Sri Lankan elephant.
This elephant, now known as “Donald Trunk”, took to the seas in most uncharacteristic fashion, using his enormous, gas-filled belly to take Archimedes’ floating principle to a new extreme and his long trunk as a giant sea-snake-like snorkel to cruise a massive ocean current ten miles out into the Indian Ocean.
It is thought that, tired of being the biggest kahuna on terrafirma, Donald Trunk decided it was time to catch some waves and maybe even meet his almighty sub-aqua equivalent - the blue whale.
So, off set the elephant following Poseidon’s dorsal fin to surf his way into the deep blue seas. The navy team of divers that came to his rescue report that Donald seemed disappointed to see them and appeared to be loving his surprisingly buoyant sojourn across calm seas to nowhere in particular, spurred on by dancing dolphins, tantalising turtles and a huge host of beautiful tropical fish, with gorgeous views of the golden sands of his homeland’s palm-fringed coastline fading into the distance behind him.
Just as the navy’s remarkable elephant rescue operation was taking place, Meg Williams, co-founder of the trail-blazing Stick No Bills poster design business which now straddles the two island paradises of Sri Lanka and Mallorca, was sitting down to breakfast in Palma. As usual, Meg had been up since well before dawn to communicate with Sri Lanka which lies in a timezone four and a half hours ahead of the Balearic Isles.
However, this very morning, i.e. the day Donald Trunk learnt to surf, was unusual in that Meg had literally just committed to donating profits from her retro style surfing elephant advert to the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) to boost its crucial mission to protect the endangered elephants of Sri Lanka.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with Stick No Bills or Meg, here is a quick run down. Meg was formerly Vice President of one of the world’s premier security firms, a company founded in London in 2001 by senior ex-special forces agents in which Meg headed up the intelligence, due diligence and risk analysis department for seven years and from which she resigned in 2008 to start a family and ‘be the change’ she wanted to see in the world.
Meg and her husband Philip moved to Galle where they managed a surf hotel and Meg - cathartically tapping into the experiences and contacts she had gained during her career working in the intelligence arena in the United States, United Kingdom and across conflicts zones of the Middle East, Africa and Asia - became the script advisor to the highly successful prime time British TV show Spooks.
Between when Sri Lanka’s war ended in 2009 and 2014, the couple had their two daughters, surfed most sunrises, launched the Galle Fort Flea Market and became founding members of Greener Galle, the community-launched initiative to transform Galle Fort into the first carbon neutral UNESCO world heritage city. They also founded an advertising and marketing services company with the aim of giving post-war Sri Lanka free positive branding worldwide through the promotion of vintage and retro Ceylon/Sri Lanka poster designs, encouraging tourists to come to the war and tsunami-torn island and to take idyllic travel posters home with them in the form of posters and postcards.
The British couple recognised that by exploiting Philip’s commercial and creative expertise gained working in advertising for the Financial Times Group in London and latterly as an advertising photographer in the Middle East and America, they could do something “good for Sri Lanka and good for us” by setting about providing “the best national branding campaign the Sri Lankan government never paid for”, through their exhibition of digitally re-mastered lithograph Ceylon and Sri Lanka travel posters in Galle Fort and their launching of the No Bill Piece Prize, their open-ended international travel poster design contest.
The extraordinary rescue
In the meantime, with the help of a well known Sri Lankan, a Galle based restaurateur and businessman and a highly dedicated all-female team of gallery assistants, Stick No Bills’ first poster gallery, the retail outlet for sale of the British couple’s designs, was born. The doors of the flagship gallery at 35 Church Street have been open from 8am to 8pm 365 days a year, ever since, and Stick No Bills now also supplies a dozen other mini-galleries set up at prestigious high end locales island-wide.
As soon as Stick No Bills started to thrive, the company also began to donate proceeds from specific designs to noble local conservation and sustainability-orientated causes such as The Galle Heritage Foundation. Fast forward to Tuesday, 11th July 2017 in Spain, at breakfast. Meg’s phone rings. An old friend of hers from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s maritime division hollers down the line all the way from Long Island, New York: “Holy crow, have you heard what’s happened?? The Sri Lankan Navy have just rescued an elephant swimming ten miles out to sea off the island’s east coast! We first thought they were onto a narco-sub. But incredibly its an elephant!!”
Meg was confused by the tip off; was this some kind of joke? Her surfing elephant design had just gone into production and now the Sri Lankan navy had rescued a surfing elephant?
Sure enough, within hours, video footage of the extraordinary rescue operation had gone viral. By the end of the day the story had become headline news around the world.
See international news coverage of the Sri Lankan Navy rescue here ... https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/13/swimming-trunk-elephant-re...
and the Stick No Bills poster here ...
and the SLWCS website here ... http://www.slwcs.org.
In the words of Ravi Corea the CEO and President of SLWCS who founded the formidable organisation in 1995: ‘It is indeed an amazing coincidence and serves as a very good sign for the success of the partnership between the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and Stick No Bills Poster Gallery.’
This article was written by British writer Juliet Coombe for the Daily News and published in the features section on 28th July 2017.