Meet the couple turning creativity into conservation
Words by Deborah Burst
Illustration by Jing Li
Anne London is in her fourth decade as a wildlife artist, but her journey is far from over. Her work and travels with her husband Jim Hart, an oceanographer, are raising money to cease the senseless killing of animals in Africa. In 2011, they started a nonprofit based in Mandeville, Louisiana, Arts for Animals, focused on building renewed energy for preserving the world’s wildlife by educating a new generation of African children.
“The first time you feel a free lion's roar in your ribcage, the first time you make eye contact with an elephant, it's hard not to be hooked,”
says Anne, staring at a canvas etched with a life-size lion in her art studio. “Arts for Animals was born out of our personal desire to do something and enlist African children to join the fight.”
Anne and Jim began their saintly quest under the grueling Kalahari Desert sun in Botswana, part of South Africa and home to the Bushmen tribes. They designed a teaching plan along with a poster the children use to share their creativity and wildlife stewardship.
“Our poster was tied to trees, and the kids used an old door as their desk while Anne demonstrated drawing techniques on a sheet of paper tied to another old door,” explains Jim as he points to a photograph. “As the children drew, the elders of the Bushmen tribes sat in the back watching intently.”
Anne added, “When the elders gave me a thumbs up, Jim and I knew we were onto something.”
The poster itself has become a treasure and holds a special place inside the children’s homes, often mud huts, where it continues to educate friends and family.
Drawing the animals connected them personally, helping both the elders and the children recognize the significant effect that the slaughter of animals had on their village.
Both Anne and Jim have come a long way from classrooms made of tree stumps and old doors. In 2016, Arts for Animals built an Arts for Wildlife Center near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe that reaches 900 children a year. Arts for Animals worked with the nonprofits Painted Dog Conservation and Children in the Wilderness to form multiple wildlife conservation programs under the banner, “Connecting creativity with conservation.”
Working in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, they host overnight camps and classes, reaching more than 2500 children each year. It is there they see the wildlife up close, hear the rumble of a lion’s roar, and cry with excitement, developing an even greater love affair.
After many reflections, the wildlife wonders grew quiet when asked to share their greatest accomplishment. Anne peered out the patio window spying her jungle consumed by oaks, pines, and palmetto leaves. Turning back and biting her bottom lip, she told the story of Descent Chimupeni.
It began with a single art lesson, outside on a day hotter than blazes. Packing up, they noticed this one student—someone new, tattered, malnourished, and shy.
“But an amazing talent,” Anne says, pausing for a moment. “I kept looking over his shoulder at what he was painting. Everyone was looking. Where did this, this talent come from?”
Jim looks at Anne with a comforting smile. “He lived in a hut, his clothing was nothing but patches, his parents were dead, all he had was his grandmother,” Anne continues. “The dust was blowing under the trees, and the kid comes running out of what looked like a sandstorm, hands me this tattered envelope, and runs away.”
On the face of the envelope is: “Defenders of Wildlife, Anne and Jim,” and inside is an exquisite portrait of an antelope. Rather than bring his drawing back home, he gave it to his teachers, a gift that would forever define his future.
“I get choked up just thinking about it,” Anne explains with tears in her eyes. “We wanted to find a way to give him scholarships, pay for his room and board, and keep this 14-year-old kid in school.”
It was then Arts for Animals began producing notecards with the children’s treasured artwork. Sales from the cards go directly to scholarships and art supplies for the schools and their wildlife center. The notecards are available from Wilderness Safaris, high-end safari camps operated by Children in the Wilderness.
“These animals represent their future; when someone kills an animal, they’re killing their future,” explains Jim, noting that the children have pledged to be animal protectors and wear wristbands proclaiming their allegiance. “It’s a show of solidarity when they see a rancher or policeman with a band; it increases the whole synergy of the wildlife protection movement.”
As noted on the Arts for Animals website, hundreds of elephants are killed and maimed each day by poachers and snares. Africa’s children are the answer. Only they can stop the illegal use of wire snares and the killing of Africa’s wildlife.