By Diane Y. Welch
In 2007, when Del Mar residents Liz Allen and Mark Fangue were on a buying trip for artifacts for their new business, Exotic World Gifts, they discovered an elephant camp in northern Thailand. They had no way of knowing then that this retreat for Asian elephants would bring them global media attention.
But when an elephant ambled toward an easel, toting her paint box in her swinging trunk, then meticulously painted a picture of herself, the couple knew that this was no ordinary event.
The elephant was captured on Fangue's high-definition video camera and then shared on YouTube for the world to witness.
"It blew my mind," said Fangue as he recalled filming the painting pachyderm in a recent interview. "When you watch the video and you hear the person say, 'Oh my God!' that's me."
While it may seem hard to believe that elephants can be trained to paint meticulously crafted art works, with the aid of a mahout — a trainer who is closely bonded to the elephant — the seemingly impossible is mastered. And in partnership with the elephant camp in Thailand, Allen and Fangue now sell these paintings on their Web site, www.exoticworldgifts.com, to raise funds that directly support the Asian elephants which are rapidly becoming extinct.
Allen and Fangue, who met on Match.com three years ago, have since been swept up in the media spotlight.
"Within four days of posting the video it had 7.2 million viewers," Fangue said. "It caused such a sensation that we appeared on Good Morning America, the Today Show, CNN, NBC, International BBC, National Geographic, Japanese radio, and Animal Planet."
But some disputed the authenticity of the elephant video. When the National Geographic film crew visited with the couple in their Del Mar cottage, they got a private showing of Fangue's video.
"It is hard to believe that this video is real," said Fangue, "but as they watched the original that was still in my camera they saw that it was genuine. So they flew us to Thailand with their film crew to validate our film and to document what turned out to be part of a feature program that's now airing, called 'Wild on Tape.'"
The video has since topped 10 million viewers with more than 18,000 comments and 1,400 blogs and has spring boarded Exotic World Gifts to a new level of visibility. On the couple's return from Thailand in August, 2008, Animal Planet asked to do a show on them.
"They flew their crew out to Rancho Santa Fe to interview us and do a program here. We had products at the J Gallery in Del Rayo Village Center and they filmed the show right there in Leigh Timmons' showroom," Fangue said.
In alignment with their support for sustainability for artisans in countries that include Thailand, Bali, Africa, Vietnam, Central America, South America, and India, Allen and Fangue are active members of the Fair Trade Federation and Free America, and participate in events that promote world peace, said Allen.
"We promote earth-friendly practices and are helping to end poverty. We recently did an exhibit at Jane Goodall's United Nations Peace Day, and Pierce Brosnan, who was very complimentary of our work, bought a necklace for his wife and he encouraged us to do more. Our business values are based on justice, dignity, empowerment, transparency and respect for people and the planet."
To find out more about Exotic World Gifts visit them on line at www.
exoticworldgifts.com. Click on the link "Original Elephant Painting" to see Mark Fangue's video recording of an elephant painting.