Born on 25th April 1931, Richard David Shepherd was a British artist and outspoken conservationist. Although he painted a wide variety of subjects like locomotives, landscapes, and even the Royal Family, he was most well-known for his wildlife paintings. His work gained popularity from the 1960s, when they were reproduced as posters, in print production, and as limited edition plates. Shepherd passed away on 19th September 2017.
“Rhino on a runway” was the first wildlife painting by David Shepherd and was commissioned by RAF. He was made to fly to Kenya for the same and it was here that he became interested in the conservation of animals when he saw two hundred and twenty-five zebras lying dead, after drinking water from a poisoned water hole in Tanzania. He began speaking out about the desperate need for the conservation of wildlife and was even quoted as saying that many other locomotives could be built by man but man could not build another. Shepherd often used his paintings to raise money for wildlife conservation. His first wildlife fundraiser was held in 1973; it was called ‘Tiger Fire’ and it raised over £127,000 for Operation Tiger which was under the aegis of Indira Gandhi.
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation was established by him in 1984, to continue his efforts and channel funds into the conservation of wildlife. Throughout his career, he had wanted to give back to the elephants, tigers, and rhinos that had gifted him his booming career. DSWF was a result of this endeavor; it is a charity that focuses on funding projects for the conservation of endangered wildlife in Africa and Asia. It invests in a wide range of projects, which includes training and equipping rangers to protect vulnerable wildlife from poachers, campaigning for an end to the trade involving endangered wildlife and building the capacity of law enforcement networks to protect wildlife. DSWF also works for the greater legal protection of endangered wildlife, supports investigations into organized wildlife crime and funds international cross-border enforcement programs. The charity also houses a number of critically acclaimed and rare artwork from leading wildlife artist, the proceeds of which go towards the conservation of endangered species. The charity has directly contributed $8 million towards keeping important projects in Asia and Africa operational.
On this 80th birthday in 2011, Shepherd launched ‘TigerTime.’ It was a social media based campaign which aimed to save the tiger in the wild, and it received patronage from various artist like Sir Paul McCartney, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and others.
He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1980 for his services towards the conservation of wildlife. In 2008, he was further made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his continued efforts towards charity and the conservation of wildlife. He was also awarded an Honorary Degree in Fine Arts by the Pratt Institute in New York in 1971 as well as the Order of the Golden Ark by HRH The Prince of The Netherlands in 1973. Shepherd was made a Member of Honor of WWF and OBE in 1979 and was awarded the Order of Distinguished Service by Zambia in 1988. In 1986 he was awarded the FRSA, and in June 2008, he was awarded with the CBE for services to conservation. His other awards include the Conservation Award by the Wetnose Animal Aid Awards and the True Englishman Award at the St George’s Day Club annual gathering in 2012. World’s first elephant orphanage was also opened by him, which was officiated by Dr. Guy Scott, Vice-President of Zambia. In 2016, he received the Animal Hero Lifetime Achievement Award to two standing ovations which left him speechless.
A number of television programs were made on David’s life; the most notable of which include BBC’s ‘Man Who Loves Giants’ in 1972; Central TV’s NatureWatch in 1990; In Search of Wildlife series for Thames in 1988 and Last Train to Mulobezi’ which was also produced by BBC in 1974.
He published five books and an autobiography about his work, which includes An Artist in Africa in 1967, Only One World in 1995, David Shepherd, The Man and His Paintings in 1985 and Painting with David Shepherd in 2004.