Suda with her sunset art | Photo credit: Dwain Schenck
It, presumably, won’t be wrong to summon that the world that predominately runs on representative money is currently shifting towards digital currency. In that race, NFTs seem to be one of the most preferred choices.
Also termed non-fungible token, NFT is a means of uniquely representing an object or an idea — whether physical or virtual — which prevents replication or alteration and provides proof of ownership, like it is the ultimate authenticity card.
In recent times, we saw singers buying NFTs from the likes of Eminem, and also producers selling film NFTs.
Interestingly, Dwain Schenck, the co-head of BitTrunks, tells GLAMOUR BUFF that he and his team at BitTrunks launched the world’s first NFT art made by an elephant earlier in October this year. Surreal, isn’t it?
“The idea that an elephant could paint was utter amazement,” Schenck says, sharing his first impression of the elephant art. “When I saw with my own eyes Tunwa and Suda making this incredible art it was still too incredible to comprehend.”
But the proceed from the sale of Elephant Art NFTs are going nowhere but to support the herd of elephants at the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic.
In the exclusive interview, Schenck, who is also the founder of strategic communications and consulting firm Schenck Strategies, talks about the world’s first NFT art made by elephant and everything around it.
GB: A NFT art, that, too, made by a seven-year-old elephant is something exclusive. Tell us more about your first impression of Elephant Art NFTs?
DS: Suda, already famous in her own right for her artistic abilities, was not just painting landscapes. She can paint self-portraits. And these aren’t just splashes of color splattered on canvass – but art with trees, animals, and blue skies blended together to make something truly beautiful. This was hands down the coolest thing I had ever seen.
Let’s face it, there are many things to love about elephants. People are naturally drawn to them because they are caring, intelligent, and are able to form bonds and show empathy. But who knew some have the ability to make art with their trunks? It’s natural to be skeptical, especially when it looks as if the painting could have been made by a human artist.
What seals the deal is we provide each collector of every BitTrunks NFT purchased a video documenting the entire artistic process, start to finish, along with photos and a certificate of authenticity. That’s when it sinks in that not only are you watching something truly magical take place, you have also purchased something incredibly unique, verging on priceless. What’s more, the buyer also receives the actual painting on canvass that can be hung on the wall. This is also historically special because a portion of the proceeds of the sale of every NFT goes to help support the elephant park and lifesaving medical clinic where Tunwa and Suda live along with more than 80 other elephants. You can purchase Elephant Art by visiting the official Elephant Art Online website.
GB: So, when did this thing initially start? Tell us about the process and people involved in this fascinating work.
DS: BitTrunks is the NFT-branch of Elephant Art Online (EAO). EAO announced the debut of its NFT (non-fungible token) initial release featuring the world’s first NFT created by an elephant on October 18, 2021. The first 1 of 1 NFT artwork to be made available to the world was called the Tree of Life and was created by Tunwa, a 7-year-old male elephant who was born and raised at the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The NFT is available on our OpenSea page, the first and largest peer-to-peer marketplace for NFTs. Additional value-added content that comes with this particular NFT includes outtakes of Tunwa painting, a day-in-the-life of him interacting with other elephants in his habitat, and a digitally verifiable certificate of authenticity of the painting (QR Code).
Tunwa with Tree of Life art
Maetaeng Elephant Park was formed in 1996 to aid elephants now free but with nowhere to go after the 1989 ban on logging in Thailand. Seeing increased numbers of elephants forced to roam city streets and take up work in the illegal logging trade, the park decided to create a safe and friendly work environment where visitors to the Kingdom of Thailand would be able to see these majestic animals up close and help support the park’s efforts.
In 2000, elephant handlers started to humanely teach a few select elephants how to paint. The idea was to raise enough money so that the park could build an elephant hospital. This dream came true in 2006 when the park became the first government-licensed facility to operate an elephant hospital in Northern Thailand.
GB: Since you are the co-head of BitTrunks, can you tell us if the main idea behind creating the platform was to promote elephant-made arts?
DS: Elephant Art Online, which is the original seller of authentic elephant paintings, decided to start BitTrunks as a way to continue to surprise the NFT community with regular exclusive releases that are aimed towards investor collectors who are looking for long and short-term gains in the lucrative NFT market. Our goal is to create a unique offering that will act as a profitable investment vehicle while at the same time generating needed funds for our elephant park and elephant medical clinic to survive and thrive.
Prior to the pandemic, Suda and Tunwa were the star attraction at the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic in Chiang Mai, Thailand, painting for scores of visiting tourists as a way to raise money to care for and feed more than 80 elephants living at the park. Times were good. Then COVID-19 hit, grinding tourism to a halt – the very lifeblood and funding source to care for the elephants. Our goal is to be able to use NFTs as a funding source instead of relying on tourism. If we can make this a working model, we plan to expand this concept and help other struggling animal parks in Thailand and elsewhere.
GB: That is awesome!
DS: Yes! We also have several new mind-blowing NFTs in the works. We will soon launch a lower-priced collection starting at 0.3 ETH that will be based on Suda’s paintings. This will allow the general NFT community the ability to collect and trade our NFTs. We also plan to release a new collection that is an art collaboration between our elephant Tunwa and his mahout (caretaker). This means that the paintings will be made both by Tunwa and his mahout.
GB: You previously mentioned something very touching – about the proceeds from the sales of the Elephant Art NFTs being used to support the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic. Can you elaborate more about this noble cause?
DS: In 2000, we started to teach our elephants how to paint. Suda is known for her unique artistic talents. Suda is a 15-year-old girl who has been painting for 10 years. She is responsible for raising thousands of dollars for our elephant hospital. She has been featured on CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Joe Rogan’s podcast for her lasting ability to create beautiful mountainscapes, flowering trees, and waterfalls.
The idea was to sell the paintings to raise enough money so that we could build an elephant clinic at the park. In 2006, we became the first elephant park with a government-licensed hospital on its premises in Northern Thailand that now treats an estimated 800 elephants in the area, free of charge.
Fruit feast for elephants
To keep this kind of service going we depend on the generosity of those who visit the park, general donations, and the purchase of elephant paintings on our website. Due to COVID-19, and the fact that tourism and the funds that come with it have dried up, it seemed natural to turn one of our most beautiful paintings into a 1 of 1 NFT. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s called the Tree of Life and can be purchased by visiting our OpenSea page.
It’s a one-of-kind investment opportunity that we feel will create inexplicable value for anyone who is lucky enough to purchase it. The owner of this NFT will also know they are giving back in ways few can imagine by supporting 100’s of elephants for years to come.
GB: Do you also believe that such an exemplary campaign will bring awareness about the conservation of elephants, as well as animal conversation as a whole?
DS: We believe BitTrunks NFTs will be a great investment and bring more awareness to the importance of animal welfare and the preservation and protection of elephants. Sadly, elephant populations have experienced significant declines over the last century. While some populations of African elephants are expanding, primarily in southern Africa, numbers are continuing to fall in other areas, particularly in central Africa and parts of East Africa. Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the last three generations, and they are still in decline today. With only 40,000 – 50,000 left in the wild, the species is classified as endangered.
We opened the Maetaeng Elephant Park & Clinic in 1996 to provide a safe environment for the many elephants and their mahouts, the elephant’s caretaker, who lost their job because of the Thai Government ban on all logging practices in protected forests.
With the modernization and commercialization of Thailand in the 20th century, the elephant habitat was destroyed at an unprecedented rate as domesticated elephants were used by non-Thai owners in the teak logging industry until the ban in 1989. As a result, Thai elephants were forced to survive either in the illegal logging industry, walking the city streets begging, or from tourism. An argument can be made that a well-run elephant camp like ours provides a nurturing environment for the elephants and supports the mahout and their families.
GB: Any special mentions who you feel are doing their best to promote animal conservation.
DS: We are not affiliated in any way with Joe Rogan, but he visited our park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, a few years ago, and he has raised awareness about our elephant paintings on several occasions. There are also numerous celebrities that are raising awareness about elephant protection and conservation, for which we are grateful.
GB: Now, the initiative has been taken and we expect the Elephant Art NFTs led by BitTrunks to go miles. But where do you personally see this idea in the coming few years?
DS: The idea to create the world’s first-ever NFT art made by an elephant became a natural extension for us to leverage what has been taking place for more than a decade at our elephant park. Up to now, almost all investors in NFTs are in it for profit. We do see an opportunity here to offer more. Our business model accommodates philanthropic-minded investors the ability to enter the scene and do good for themselves and in our case, the elephants. Money will always be the driver of any new technology. How we all use this tool remains to be seen. We believe it will evolve in the same direction as a traditional art gallery, but with much more potential and opportunity.
Painting made by Suda
Some experts claim it is the next new fundraising frontier. NFTs have allowed charities, celebrities, and individuals to auction off their digital creations, with all or most of the proceeds going to a charity of their choice. In the coming months and years, we will roll out varied natural and vectorized collections of elephant art NFTs. We will also vary the themes of the paintings. Suda and Tunwa don’t just paint mountains and fields. They are equally talented at painting space and futuristic vistas and pop art images. More to come on that exciting front.
GB: Let us focus slightly more on NFTs and the digital market. How can a common man benefit from such NFTs?
DS: It is not easy to explain NFTs in a few sentences. One thing is sure, it will go mainstream in the very near future. A common term for NFT, Cryptocurrency, and Metaverse is Internet 3.0. This is the future, and what it means is that trade and possessions will be virtual in the future, and NFTs will undoubtedly play a big role in this. Instead of trading with fiat money or even cryptocurrency, NFTs will be used as a token of trade. Especially in the gaming space where players will be able to purchase game characters, skills, and items. I think it is too early to say exactly how NFTs will be beneficial for the common man, outside of the above-mentioned applications. It is a fairly new technology and is still evolving.
GB: Also, where should we head to purchase these special Elephant Art NFTs?
DS: You can purchase a BitTrunks NFT by visiting our OpenSea page. Buying an Elephant Art NFT is an investment into what is easily some of the most unique paintings on the planet. There is so much more behind the art as well. The lucky collector will usher in a brighter future for the herd – for the older elephants and the ones yet to be born. It’s a win-win for all.
Tree of Life by Tunwa
GB: Do you have a message for Tunwa? Jokes apart, what would you tell those who want to buy the Elephant Art NFTs?
DS: It’s important for people to know that all of our elephants are treated humanely and ethically. Every morning the elephants at the park are led down to the MaeTaeng river to take a morning bath followed by a short 30-minute walk with their mahouts followed by breakfast that consists of fresh grass, melons, bananas, mangos, coconuts, corn stalks, and other seasonal non-citrus fruits.
Each elephant consumes up to 650 pounds of food per day or around 10 percent of its body weight. This routine takes place throughout the day. A team of veterinarians also attends to every elephant and checks the skin, legs, feet, and eyes, and looks for any signs of stress or fatigue.
Another interesting fact is each painting created by Tunwa takes a little over four hours to produce, including snack breaks and time off to walk around the park and eat bananas, one of his favorite treats. Tunwa and the other painting elephants are never forced to make art and when they lose interest they come back later to begin again or just take the day off.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. If you have any inquiries, email us at email@example.com.