| Maharani Gayatri Devi helped by Mark Shand on their way back from the centenary celebrations of Kaziranga National Park. Picture by Eastern Projections
Kohora (Kaziranga), Feb. 16: Camilla Parker Bowles has just managed to find herself a prince. Now, her brother is out scouting for a mate for his 'Pampered Princess', Tara.
Tall and boyishly handsome, Mark Shand is passionate about the female Asian elephant, on whose back he has travelled over 1,000 kms in India. And knowing his 33-year-old princess will need help finding a prince charming, he's leaving no stone unturned.
The princess is no longer with him, though. Some years ago, he 'donated' her to Belinda Wright, a friend and founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, so that she could draw tourists to Kipling Camp, a resort in Madhya Pradesh's Kanha National Park.
But such is his passion for Tara --- as for Asian elephants in general, for whose conservation he works ' that he travels to Kipling Camp several times every year just to be with her.
Mark's description of his 'first sight' of the elephant in a village in south Orissa way back in 1989 is almost loverly. 'My mouth went dry. I felt giddy, breathless.
'With one hind leg crossed over the other, she was leaning nonchalantly against a tree, the charms of her perfectly rounded posterior in full view, like a prostitute on a street corner.
'I knew then that I had to have her and I realised, with some surprise, that I had fallen in love with a female Asian elephant,' he writes in Travels on my Elephant, for which he won the British Book Awards Travel Writer of the Year prize.
Mark carries a similar kind of passion for every elephant in Kaziranga National Park, of which he is the 'international brand ambassador'. Little wonder then that he cut short a reporter prying about his eldest sister Camilla's love life and chose to focus on the loves in his life instead.
'Let us talk about Kaziranga and the elephants,' Mark said almost angrily when quizzed about Camilla shortly after news of her engagement with Prince Charles broke last week.
Here for Kaziranga's centenary celebrations, the 50-something Mark, dressed in ash corduroys and green T-shirt, almost gushes while talking of his jumbo passion.
'What is a milestone if it is not celebrated' Kaziranga has been a fantastic success story. Show me another in Asia,' he said, defending the celebrations which have come under a cloud after animal rights activists alleged elephants were being tortured in the game reserve.
Over the past few days, Mark has been pitching for a more coordinated conservation process for elephants. 'Mark is very focused on his job. And that is work for conservation of the Asian elephant,' a Kaziranga official said.
More than as the younger brother of Camilla, Mark --- he has dabbled in selling property and art deco jewellery and worked in cattle stations and mines --- would rather be known for the travel books he has written.
Two of them are Elephant Queen --- an account of his travels with elephant trainer Parbati Baruah along an elephant migratory route through Bengal to Assam --- and River Dog --- a chronicle of his journey down the Brahmaputra with a dog called Bhaiti (Assamese for brother).
Mark is also associated with an elephant conservation programme in Jaipur. Amid his myriad assignments on Valentine's Day, he made time to accompany Maharani Gayatri Devi to t a temple near Kaziranga.
He divides his time between Italy, Britain and India. He lives in Rome with his wife, the former actress Clio Goldsmith, and their daughter, Ayesha.