Well-known Danish photographer Thorsten Overgaard has stopped offering luxury elephant skin camera bags for sale after word of the bags got some photographers up in arms.
The 53-year-old Overgaard, known for his photography writing and workshops, sells luxury camera bags and bespoke suitcases through a partnership with Italian luxury designer Matteo Perin. The bags typically cost from $6,000 to $40,000 depending on the skin used, with calf being on the lower end and crocodile on the high end.
But what caught the eye of some photographers was the elephant skin bag that was listed on the page.
Overgaard wrote that the elephant skin bag helps preserve endangered species.
“This specific bag is elephant hide from Zimbabwe, which is one of the countries that have a remarkable growth of in population of Luxodonta africana elephants (84,000) within their reserves,” Overgaard wrote. “The sale of hides from naturally deceased elephants goes into funding the reserves, the security and veterinarians. The reserves features 76 mammal and 650 bird species.”
Despite Overgaard stating that the skin was obtained from elephants that died naturally, photographers took to Leica Forum to express their disapproval and question the legality of the bag.
One photographer called the product “disgusting,” while another suggested reporting Overgaard to authorities.
“Naturally dead Elephants? Hogwash,” wrote one forum moderator. “I have yet to see somebody push the hyenas and lions aside to obtain a bit of skin. Only the ivory is salvaged. Naturally dead elephants are left to nature to dispose of. […] ‘Certified’ elephant skin comes from culled and hunted elephants, other highly controversial practices; at best (least bad, I suppose) from captive Asian elephants.
“How many die naturally yearly? These are animals that live up to sixty years.”
Overgaard initially responded to his critics by reiterating that he doesn’t use hunted elephant skins, saying: “The sale of hides from naturally deceased elephants goes into funding the reserves, the security and veterinarians. In other words, the protection and growth of elephants. We do not use elephant skin from hunted elephants.”
But after 5 days and over 20 forum pages of conversation in the forum thread, Overgaard was convinced by his critics’ arguments and changed his mind on the issue. In addition to no longer offering the elephant skin bags for sale, Overgaard decided to adopt an elephant.
“Elephant has been taken out of the repertoire now,” the photographer writes. “I have decided it’s not something I will promote. I have changed my mind on this, as a result of researching this subject during the last week.
“The overall deciding argument in all this is the fact that when governments flushed the market with 105 tons of legal ivory in an attempt to remove the market for illegal killing and trade, it had the opposite effect. The illegal killings for ivory went up. The logics of this must be that the more ivory and elephant products are promoted, the more it is wanted.
“That’s why I won’t promote elephant products. History has shown that legal trade will cause an increase in illegal trade too.”
Overgaard says he donated $1,000 to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust as a gift of life, as a foster parent of an elephant. He also donated $1,400 to the WWF to adopt a second elephant.
Speaking with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust on the phone, Overgaard requested that the adopted elephant be named “Barnack” (named after Oscar Barnack, the inventor of the original Leica camera).
Overgaard’s critics thanked and praised him for his response to their concerns.
“I actually think that this has turned out to be one of the best threads on this forum in the 16 years I have been a member.” writes one forum moderator.