Gallery: encountering elephants in London parks
‘If you go down to the woods today …’ We all know that the ‘big surprise’ in the woods of that childhood ditty is a teddy-bears picnic. But what about a surprise in a park – what could that be?
On a recent visit to London’s Green Park, the ‘big surprise’ for me was a herd of seventy elephants! Yes elephants – but of course not real ones. These magnificent creatures are the work of members of the indigenous communities of Tamil Nadu. These people live in close proximity to the elephants real-life counterparts and have learned to coexist with them; hence the name of this campaign, CoExistence. All the animals are life-size and modelled on real wild elephants from the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India. They are made from lantana camara, an invasive weed whose removal from protected areas benefits wildlife. Altogether there are a hundred elephants in this herd, with a further thirty roaming St James’ Park on the other side of the Mall.
CoExistence arose from the impact that the global lockdowns of 2020 had on the animals with whom we share our world. As their website says:
Twenty twenty was an exceptional year when a microscopic virus brought human activity a grinding halt. Photos of wildlife roaming urban streets around the world went viral. Herds of fallow deer grazed the lawns of housing estates in east London. Wild boar snuffled and foraged on the streets of Haifa in Israel, while river dolphins jumping in Istanbul’s Bosphorus, otherwise trafficked by huge tankers, cargo ships and passenger boats.
Our lightened footprint, the anthropause, showed us that animals and nature are just around the corner, waiting to share space, if we let them.
Can we make Coexistence more permanent?
There are places in the world, where people and elephants have always been living together in ways that are unimaginable to most of us. It’s an ancient relationship, that’s being challenged and negotiated every day.
Signs in the park highlight examples of communities who have learned to coexist peacefully with elephants. For example, halting traffic on roads at night so the herds can cross safely to new grazing areas; planting crops especially for the elephants so that their farms aren’t raided; making space for the elephants who use the tea plantations of southern India to give birth.
The herd are travelling the world. As they travel they are spreading the message that co-existence with wildlife is possible, if we only make the effort to meet our fellow inhabitants of this earth halfway.
I’m sharing this set of images of the herd as my contribution this week to the Photographing Public Art Challenge led by Marsha and Cee. And by the way, if you’re so taken by these elephants you would like to own one, they’re being sold in aid of the campaign. The money raised will go to grass-roots organisations across India that allow people and wildlife to live together more peacefully. But you’ll need a large space and a large purse; the calves start at £6,000 while one of the large tuskers will set you back £30,000!
I would have loved this if only I was there. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!
Glad you enjoyed them Teresa, if only virtually!
Wow, seventy life sized elephants, that’s amazing! They’re all so beautiful and meaningful. It’s great the make them out of an invasive weed and that that helps the wildlife. What a great project!
Yes, it’s a wonderful project Nancy – so glad you enjoyed seeing the elephants!
I. J. Khanewala
That’s something! Also, I never heard of lantana being used as sculptural material. They may be harmful, but they are butterfly magnets
I looked it up and recognised the flowers as some that I’ve seen growing in gardens over here and yes, attracting butterflies. But it said that, ‘this is a tough plant that grows quickly and aggressively. On farm and pastureland, this weed grows into thick hedges that are difficult to penetrate. Furthermore, lantana is toxic to livestock and humans.’ So I can see why the farmers in Tamil Nadu are glad to get rid of it!
I. J. Khanewala
I know it is an aggressive weed, and can see why it needs to be removed. Still, while they is around, I lurk around them at midmorning to photograph butterflies
Haha yes, I would do the same! A shame there were no butterflies landing on the elephants – that would have been a great shot!
Hi Sarah – great to meet you (and via Janet out in US).
You got great shots of those amazing elephants
Lovely to meet you too 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words about the photos! They ARE amazing, aren’t they? I wish I had the space and money to buy one 😀
Like others have said, what a terrific display, and great idea. I like the word “anthropause” too…in fact I like that the event even has a name!
Thank you 🙂 Yes, I was rather taken with that word too!
Seventy elephants! They look so real and I can see each elephant’s face expsession! Great photos and explanation!
Thank you so much for visiting, Ayuri 🙂 Yes, each is unique, based on a real elephant, and you can see that in their expressions!
I believe these are the same ones Debbie shared recently but I very much enjoyed the information you included with these excellent photos. I love these elephants.
Thanks Janet, I’m glad you enjoyed this 🙂 I haven’t seen the other post you mention but would be interested to do so if you can share a link?
Manja Mexi Mexcessive
Amazing installation and photography. I have not seen this anywhere. Thank you so much. I must have a look if they come anywhere near me.
Glad you enjoyed meeting these elephants – and thank you for sharing them on Twitter too 🙂
The first thing I’ve noticed is how friendly these elephants look – they’re all smiling 😁. It’s a really great initiative!
Very true – but I always think real elephants look friendly and smiley, and these were modelled on actual real ones 😀
I’m not sure about buying one – you’d need about a half dozen for any real impact!!
I love the exhibit… maybe I’ll come across it one day…..
Oh I don’t know – imagine if you had the sort of land that had a wilder section, maybe a wood, and you could come across one of these hiding among the trees?!! 🐘🐘🐘
That would be amazing!!! Unfortunately any one of them would fill my postage stamp of a garden!!
Same here – we might just fit in a calf but I’m not sure we’d be able to get out through the back door 🤣🤣
What a fabulous exhibit. The elephants are so lifelike and I love that they’re scupted from a weed. If they ever come to my city I’ll be sure to check it out!
Yes do, you’d love them! I wish I could find out more about where else they’re going but the website only mentions several places in London, of which this is the last. I don’t think the organisation is too good at PR as we only stumbled on the herd by chance even though both my husband and I are on several ‘what’s on in London’ email lists 🙄
WOW, Sarah, you go big with your public art. A herd of elephants in a London Park, That’s pretty amazing. One would look great in our California home, but it’s a little big for our condo. 🙂 Thanks for always delivering a “big surprise” every week. How are you ever going to live up to this even with your thousands of pictures, Sarah?
Thanks so much Marsha 😀 I do have some more ideas for interesting public art, of different sizes 😉 I had something else entirely half drafted for this week but when we came across those elephants yesterday I changed tack!
The elephants are brilliant. And to catch people intermingling with them – babies at their feet – powerful.
Yes, it was almost as much fun watching people’s reactions to the elephants as it was seeing the herd themselves 🙂
Babes just take it for granted that the elephants should be there. No worries for them! 🙂
What a wonderful, wonderful installation! The elephants are gorgeous and the whole story/message behind there creation is heartwarming. We need much more of this going on in parks around the world. If I had a spare six grand… Do you know how long they’ll be in the park for?
They’re there until 23rd July I believe. I haven’t been able to find out if they’re going on anywhere else after that, although one of the signs at the park indicated that they were on some sort of world tour.
So if you buy one, is it getting sent from somewhere else? I mean not directly from the travelling herd?
Ooh, I wouldn’t know – here’s the info on the website if you’re interested: https://coexistence.org/elephant-shop/
Very cool Sarah! Sharing with some friends of mine that like elephants. What a win-win.
Thanks Tracey, I’m glad you liked this and hope your friends do too!
What a great project!
(If only I had £30,000 and a larger garden, I’d buy one. Especially since it’s for a good cause.)
Me too, but even if I had the spare cash, our garden isn’t big enough even for a calf!