Kenyan Artists Turn Dangerous, Polluting Materials into Inspiring Depictions of Wildlife

whale shark flip flop art kenya photo

The "Father Flip Flop" whale-shark sculpture. Photo via Project AWARE.

Art made out of recycled materials is always a TreeHugger favorite, but it takes on special significance when the work depicts wildlife species--using objects that threaten those very animals, and the environment on which they depend.

Over the summer, student volunteers from the UK-based NGO responsible travel company Camps International coordinated seven beach cleanups on the Kenyan coastline that collected some 200 bags of ocean debris--a major threat to species worldwide--including more than 7,000 lost or discarded flip flops. Participants then worked with local artists to turn the used footwear into a life-size whale shark, the world's largest fish, which is known in Kiswahili as "papa shillingi" or "shark covered in shillings." Writes the Kenya-based East African Whale Shark Trust:

There is a local legend that God was so pleased when he created this beautiful fish, that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven onto its back.

So it goes that whale sharks have their magical markings and swim near the surface, catching the sun on their backs, as a way of saying thank you to their maker.

The organization conducts research and monitoring projects to build the body of knowledge about whale sharks, along with educational efforts targeted at young Kenyans and local fishermen, whose drift nets pose a danger to the large fish, as well as to sea turtles.

Elephant Made From Hunting Snares
We learned about the whale-shark sculpture from the always-cool folks over at AfriGadget, who noted that participating artist and conservationist Dipesh Pabari is also turning snares set to kill wildlife into large representations of elephants and other hunted creatures. Pabari and one of his collaborators previously made a life-size minke whale, named Mfalme, out of recycled flip flops.

"Mfalme was built as our contribution to a global campaign against whaling but stood for so much and really put us on the map as having people who genuinely care for our environment," Pabari writes on the WildlifeDirect blog. We hope that Papa Pata Pata ['Father Flip Flop'] will make people from all over the world realize how precious and misunderstood whale sharks are."

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