Why this elephant at the UN is hidden from view

It’s easy to miss this enormous statue of an elephant at the northern end of the grounds of the United Nations.

This 7,000 pound bronze pachyderm is located behind a black iron fence at 48th Street and First Avenue, in a corner of thick foliage and shadowy trees.

Unlike the front-and-center statue of St. George on a horse brandishing a sword above a dragon (a gift from the Soviet Union in 1990), the lifelike UN elephant seems almost purposely hidden away from view.

And it is, actually—because UN officials decided the elephant’s 2-foot erect penis was a little too lifelike.

A gift from Kenya, Namibia, and Nepal, the sculpture was supposed to “remind UN visitors of humans’ responsibility to the environment,” according to a 1998 AP article, which paraphrased then-Secretary General Kofi Annan’s dedication speech.

“The sheer size of this creature humbles us,” the AP quoted Annan, “as well it should, for it tells us that some things are bigger than we are.”

Before the dedication ceremony, potted plants and trees were “hauled in to block a side view of the animal,” the AP stated.

The Bulgarian-born sculpture, Mihail, was none too pleased to learn that UN officials were embarrassed by his work.

”I take it as a joke,” Mihail told the New York Times in 1990. ”Until I saw myself the bushes being planted. This is exactly the problem between people and wildlife. They create a frontier. Like the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall.”

Apparently potted plants weren’t enough. At some point, the UN banished the elephant to this dark corner, its anatomy shielded by shrubbery.

It really is shielded; I couldn’t get a photo of it at all from any angle. Luckily Buzzfeed was at the UN in 2014 and appears to have secured a closer view.

[Third photo: Alamy; fourth photo, Wikipedia, 2006]

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8 Responses to “Why this elephant at the UN is hidden from view”

  1. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    The site of the UN has a storied history!:
    http://newyorkwanderer.com/dressed-to-kill-part-1/
    http://newyorkwanderer.com/dressed-to-kill-part-2/

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes…thanks Ben!

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    That’s….bizarre. I guess they don’t want Republicans to know about it.

  4. RM Says:

    I could see the faces of US/UN officials as the Elephant was unveiled. LOL

  5. Mihail A. Simeonov Says:

    I am the sculptor of the Sleeping Elephant at garden of UN Headquarters. Today I emailed an Open Letter of protest to Secretary-General Guterres and released it on my Facebook page. Greetings

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Greetings, Mihail…let us know if you hear from anyone there! I think your elephant needs better visibility. Few people even know it’s there.

  7. Mihail Simeonov-mobile Says:

    https://www.un.org/press/en/1998/19981118.sgsm6800.html
    This is SG Kofi Anna’s inaugural address.

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