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Friday, November 20, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Elephant Statue Too Realistic? -- Anatomically Correct Work Unnerves Some

The AP

NEW YORK - United Nations diplomats are accustomed to arguing over national borders, chemical weapons, debt relief. This time, the debate is over an even more sensitive question: Does size matter?

There were scattered giggles in the U.N. sculpture garden Wednesday when Secretary-General Kofi Annan dedicated a statue of an elephant that some found a bit too anatomically correct.

The 11-foot-tall bronze, a gift to the United Nations from the governments of Kenya, Namibia and Nepal, was made from a cast of an actual African bull elephant.

Shortly before the ceremony, workers hauled in potted plants and trees to block a side view of the animal.

Before that, early-arriving viewers tittered at its 2-foot sexual organ.

"This is exactly the problem between people and wildlife," said the Bulgarian-born artist, known as Mihail. "People cannot face nature. This is how pitiful humanity is."

Annan said the 7,000-pound sculpture should remind U.N. visitors of humans' responsibility to the environment.

In a short dedication speech, he spoke of the statue as a whole.

"The sheer size of this creature humbles us," he said, "as well it should, for it tells us that some things are bigger than we are."

Mihail made the cast from a tranquilized wild elephant on a Kenyan ranch in 1980. A trust he founded plans to sell nine copies to raise money for wildlife and the environment.

Mihail was upset by reports that U.N. officials planned to reduce the size of the elephant's penis, although U.N. spokesman Kensaku Hogen said he was unaware of any such plans.

"This is meant to be a symbol of all wildlife, and you cannot castrate wildlife," Mihail said.

A passer-by on First Avenue agreed. "Don't cut it off!" he shouted at the crowd. "It's only natural!"

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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