An elephant conservationist never forgets

Liora Davis' "A Tribute to Elephants and Other Works"

One of the first elephant paintings Liora Davis ever completed, "Mother and Son," depicts a baby African forest elephant nuzzling his mother's trunk amid the tall savannah grass of the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic. Although the park is under heavy supervision, she says the matriarch and her son are under constant threat by ivory poachers.

From photographs supplied by the Elephant Listening Project, a Cornell University research nonprofit operating in Africa, the Plantation artist creates watercolors of endangered elephant families. The self-admitted "animal conservationist," who will mount a solo exhibition of her pachyderm paintings and other works starting March 5 at Fort Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse, says she doesn't ask what happens to the elephants after their pictures are taken. She doesn't want to know.

"I wanted to ask [Elephant Listening Project director] Peter [Wrege] if she was still alive, if they were still alive. I didn't. I couldn't have finished the painting if I knew," Davis recalls. "I would have been distraught all over again."

Half the proceeds from every painting she sells benefit the Elephant Listening Project and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenya-based conservation charity for elephants and rhinos. She says the series began following an act of rage, prompted when she heard a 2012 NPR story in which an ivory poacher laughed when a reporter asked him if he was aware that elephants mourned their dead.


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"The poacher, he said, 'Oh, yes! You shoot one, and the others come to mourn, and so I kill that one, too, and then another one and another one.' Like dominoes. I totally lost it. I flipped out," says Davis, who says she has donated more than $1,000 to both nonprofits. "I put my money where my mouth was and asked to paint the photographs ELP took of those beautiful elephants."

Davis has painted roughly a dozen works for the Elephant Listening Project, which builds devices that capture low-frequency communication among wild elephants, according to its website. So if her paintings smack of sympathy for the animals, Davis says she does it deliberately, if only to "expose the brutality" behind Africa's ivory trade. In her painting "Quanza," an adolescent elephant, gazing directly at the viewer, stands underneath a tree in Kenya months after its entire family was shot down by a clan of poachers. For "Elephant Family," Davis paints the animals in swirls of hot pink and neon green, as a nod to the thermal-imaging cameras Elephant Listening Project uses to document the elephants.

"They are highly intelligent beings, and incredibly sensitive," says Davis, who has worked on art commissions for the Stranahan House, the Bonnet House, the SunFest music festival and several Las Olas Art Fairs. "I post my paintings on Facebook. The response from local activists is amazing. I hope it all helps."

At the Parker Playhouse, whose rectangular lobby functions as a gallery space, Davis will also display 40 watercolors of Tibetan Buddhist-inspired mandalas, and of architectural landmarks in Paris and Prague.

A Tribute to Elephants and Other Works

When: March 5 through April 1

Cost: Free

Contact: 954-462-0222 or ParkerPlayhouse.com and LioraArt.com