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18 November 1998

Press Release


19981118 Thanks Expressed to Kenya, Namibia and Nepal for Gift That Will Be 'Daily Reminder That We Are All in Debt to Mother Earth'

This is the text of a statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York today at the unveiling in the Headquarters garden of the bronze cast of "The Sleeping Elephant", presented to the United Nations by the Governments of Kenya, Namibia and Nepal:

Karen Blixen famously wrote in Out of Africa that elephants pace "along as though they had an appointment at the end of the world". Our friend here certainly did; we are glad it survived the trek.

For this is a special day. The Governments of Kenya, Namibia and Nepal deserve our heartfelt thanks for this generous gift, and for persevering through a long journey to make this happen -- because today the elephant has arrived at the United Nations at last, and it is here to stay.

Elephants, whether asleep or awake, evoke many things to many people. A former Governor of Brazil's Central Bank said his country's domestic debt was like having an elephant sleeping in the basement of your house, and wondering when it would wake up and ask for peanuts.

Eighteen years have passed since Mihail Simeonov went to Kenya, tranquillized a wild bull elephant and took a cast of it before releasing it unharmed into the wild.

Since that day, the story has taken many twists and turns. There have been several rounds of painstaking negotiations. At one point, there was even the accidental destruction of some of the original mold in a college boathouse.

The final wrangle concerned the mode of transport from the foundry in Brooklyn. Plans for a boat ride on the East River and a helicopter lift were discussed and discarded; finally, our friend was wheeled on the back of a flat-bed truck along First Avenue. A crane was on hand to put it in place.

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But as we see this magnificent animal stand before us today, it was worth the wait. The sheer size of this creature humbles us. And so it should. For it shows us that some things are bigger than we are. It tells us that Earth is not ours, but a treasure we hold in trust for future generations.

It teaches us that if our global village is to be a truly desirable place for all of us on this planet, it must be guided by a wish to nurture and preserve, and not to threaten or destroy, the variety of life that gives it value.

And so, as the animal that never forgets, let the elephant serve as our institutional memory; let us remember that when future generations come to this garden as mature adults, this elephant will still be here. As we walk by it in the days and years to come, may all five tonnes of it stand as a daily reminder that we are all in debt to Mother Earth; that we ignore this at our peril; and that, if and when the elephant wakes up because we have failed in our duty, chances are it will ask for much more than peanuts. I thank you all.

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For information media. Not an official record.