Bengaluru, Here's Why You've Been Seeing Large Elephant Sculptures Across Your City

Coexistence: The Great Elephant Migration
Coexistence: The Great Elephant MigrationCoexistence Consortium

As far as exhibitions go, Bengaluru’s Coexistence: The Great Elephant Migration is one of the most unique that I have ever seen. It is a perfect marriage of eco-consciousness and art. Coexistence Consortium, an organization promoting the harmonious cohabitation of humans and animals in shared landscapes, is the brains behind this month-long exhibition.

It began in Bengaluru on the 3rd of February, this year. Gigantic sculptures of 100 life-size elephants have been spread all across the metropolis to promote the noble idea of co-existence. Sixty elephants like these were initially revealed at Lalbagh, and smaller groups were subsequently displayed at lakes, metro stations, tech campuses, and colleges. The project has been conceptualized by Tarsh Thekaekara, a PhD holder in human-elephant interactions and also a professional conservationist-researcher, along with Shubhra Nayar and Ruth Ganesh.

Elephant sculptures spotted at Cubbon Park
Elephant sculptures spotted at Cubbon Park The South First
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The initiative combines art, activism, and preservation by creating sculptures based on actual elephants living alongside communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which covers Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. What’s most interesting is the choice of material for these huge life-life elephant sculptures. The sculptures have been created from 'lantana camara', a harmful weed that is known to take over the food source of elephants. Approximately 150 indigenous craftsmen from villages around Mudumalai & MMHills are making a living by crafting these lantana elephants. The general populace of Bengaluru has been seen stroking their trunks, clicking photos, and bonding with the 'wildlife'. The sculptures will be sold afterward at auctions to raise funds for conservation initiatives.

A close up of the life-like elephant sculptures
A close up of the life-like elephant sculpturesCoexistence Consortium

"The project is trying to change the paradigm at a time when instances of human-animal conflicts are increasing. Though the media focuses on conflicts, the truth is conflict is rare — coexistence is the de facto way of living in India). Most times, an entire herd gets targeted for the damage caused by a few errant elephants."

Tarsh Thekaekara, in an interview with the Deccan Herald

In addition to the exhibition, the month-long program includes a film festival, a photo exhibition, a photography contest, nature walks, street plays, role-play games, 50 expert talks, and a 'kere habba' to celebrate the role of lakes in urban biodiversity. All activities revolve around the theme of coexistence and are free for all to participate in. This project, which has been a year in the making, is a collaborative effort involving 27 institutions in Bengaluru. The agenda also features round-table discussions with scientists. The goal is to develop an action plan for coexisting with elephants in Bengaluru, managing invasive species, and implementing the WHO-recommended One Health approach to improve the health of humans, animals, and the environment.

These elephant sculptures co-exist with other animals in shared spaces
These elephant sculptures co-exist with other animals in shared spacesCoexistence Consortium

Coexistence: The Great Elephant Migration has a rich history with a global reach. The initial exhibit featured 45 lantana elephants in Cochin in 2019, followed by a group of 125 in London in 2021, and approximately 10 in Chennai in 2022.

"The project is a call for the global north to see how Indians have always coexisted with wildlife. After the Bengaluru sojourn, these 100 elephants will tour across the USA."

Tarsh Thekaekara, in an interview with the Deccan Herald

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The exhibition is on till the 3rd of March, 2024. You can find out more here.

You can follow Coexistence Consortium here.

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