Elephantine gift embarrasses UN

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE many questions the United Nations is unwilling to answer but on one thing yesterday it was completely clear: there is to be no surgery on its new elephant.

This is not a breathing animal, of course, but a life-sized bronze that was presented to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, by the governments of Kenya, Namibia and Nepal in a ceremony in the UN's New York gardens on Wednesday. At 11 foot and 7,000 pounds, it is a splendid object indeed.

The gift, however, has been causing a bit of a stir. Forged from a cast made of a tranquillised 50-year-old bull elephant by the Bulgarian-born sculptor Mihail Simeovov on a Kenyan ranch 18 years ago, it is anatomically correct to the last detail. And this bull was generously equipped.

The UN's protocol people foresaw the potential for embarrassment. Hours before the ceremony, they planted a forest of shrubs around the beast in an attempt to block off all side views of what might be best described as a fifth leg (it is the circumference that startles, more than the length). It did not, however, prevent mirth spreading when Mr Annan conducted the dedication.

He was not, apparently, being limb-specific when he said: "The sheer size of the creature humbles us. As well it should, for it tells us that some things are bigger than we are."

The rumour quickly surfaced that the UN meant to have the elephant's drooping weapon cropped. The artist, known simply as Mihail, was mortified. "This is meant to be a symbol of wildlife and you cannot castrate wildlife," he said: "People cannot face nature. This is how pitiful humanity is."

But Mihail can relax. Asked about the threat to the elephant's virile pride, a spokeswoman at the UN press office insisted: "It's not true."