Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 11, 2010

A pack of pachyderms

Husband Art and I wandered into Hyde Park, tired after our seven-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to London. Our hotel room wouldn't be ready for several hours, so we had to kill some time.

Art flopped down on the grass and started looking at his London map. I joined him, thankful for a spot to rest away from noisy Oxford Street.

I glanced to my left and was startled to see several elephants - not real elephants, but life-sized baby elephant sculptures. They hadn't been there when we visited four years ago. Intrigued, I walked over to investigate.

Each was painted with some sort of theme. One was decorated as a "bobby" - the friendly British police foot officer - complete with the iconic black coat and hat. A plaque had the elephant's name, the artist's name and the words, "Elephant Parade London 2010." It explained that the sculptures are part of a campaign to raise money to help save Asian elephants from extinction.

Later in the day when we stopped by Berkeley Square, we discovered the invasion wasn't limited to Hyde Park. The pachyderms there also had unusual names and markings. "Lover" was decorated with a rainy train-station scene. All the figures on its blue-gray sides were dark except for one woman in a red coat embracing a man as he got off the train. Clocks were painted inside its ears.

"Iconic London" had the London Eye and an Underground sign splashed across its sides.

One man, noticing my interest, told me I could buy mini elephants at a shop on nearby Carnaby Street. We ventured there the next day and found parents and their children painting their own small sculptures.

Over the course of our week-long stay, we were greeted by the brightly-painted elephants in Trafalgar Square and Green Park, at Piccadilly Circus and on street corners and sidewalks.

"Sherlock Holmes," complete with plaid coat and the famous detective's hat, stood on one street corner. "Noah" - covered with pairs of giraffes, bears and other animals - was one of several guarding the entry points to the Covent Garden market. A plain red elephant, signed by fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger, stood on a corner near a pedestrian walkway.

Photographer that I am, I wanted to take photos of all of them, yet it was obvious I wasn't the only one fascinated by them. Little kids hugged them and wrapped their legs around the elephants' legs. Adults smiled and moved closer to study the designs.

All the elephants will be gathered into a herd in Chelsea Park at the end of this month and then sold at auction in early July. But I'm glad we happened to be in London when the elephants were still scattered throughout the city. A pack of pachyderms was the last thing Art and I expected to see on our trip to London, but their presence added a whimsical touch to Britain's always entertaining capital city.

Left, elephants in Hyde Park; right, Gloria with "Lover" in Berkley Square.

Left, pedestrians checking out a pachyderm in Trafalgar Square; right, young girl getting up close.

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