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If we die, we're taking you with us...

Updated: Jul 5

Elephants in London

Wild animals are less wild and more human than many humans of this world.

-Munia Khan

If we die, we’re taking you with us.

- A Bee

I was never big into history at school. Maths was my thing. However, for O Level history (anyone else remember O Levels?) I had a great teacher, although I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. It is thanks to him that I now find history so fascinating. Thanks Mr. Henry, wherever you are.

However I have a complaint. It turns out that a fair bit of what I was taught was wrong, or at least mere speculation. I have a number of historical anecdotes that I trot out to bore anyone who’s foolish enough to listen. Most of these, it turns out, are singularly lacking in evidence. For example, it turns out that the rude version of the V-sign probably has nothing to do with the English longbow men at Agincourt. What a disappointment. It’s such a plausible and delightful explanation. Nonetheless it is quite true that there were elephants in Hyde Park. I just checked and Google never lies.

Of all the unexpected consequences of the pandemic – some good, some bad – one that has especially pleased me is the wildlife takeover of our towns, cities and waterways. Of course human urbanization is a relatively recent phenomenon in most places and we are encroaching on the natural habitats of wild creatures. It is unsurprising therefore that they are reclaiming their old territory now that there are fewer humans about and pollution and CO2 levels are much reduced.

There have been cougars in Santiago in Chile, families of wild boar happily wandering the streets of Tel Aviv, dolphins frolicking (if that’s what happy dolphins do) in the Bosphorus in Istanbul and coyotes forming orderly, social-distanced queues outside grocery stores in San Francisco. The Zebra in Paris had escaped from a zoo so it doesn’t count.

Closer to home, we’ve not (at the time of writing) had any reports of elephants, but we have had deer grazing in a housing estate in Romford and goats window-shopping in Llandudno. That was much publicised at the time, although I still have my suspicions that it was a spoof. Also the big cat reported to be sauntering through the millionaire suburbs of Hampstead and Highgate turned out to be an overfed domestic cat of the designer hybrid variety.

Most heart-warming have been the cautious reports of an increase in the population of bees, which has been in a rather mysterious decline for a number of years. It’s probably too early to deduce that pollution is entirely to blame but it certainly seems to be a contributory factor.

What these events show is that, in the absence of humans, nature would swiftly reclaim what we have stolen from it. Our encroachment would be turned back in a relatively short time. However, if we insist on continuing with our damaging activities it is possible that we will create a world that is irreparably damaged and uninhabitable for all creatures. It would seem that we haven’t yet got to that fork in the road but we need to work together as a single race to avert disaster.

To get back to my elephants in Hyde Park, of which you are naturally dubious. In 1851, for the Great Exhibition, a vast enclosed structure of glass and cast iron was erected in Hyde Park. Exotica from throughout the British Empire were on display, including elephants. Imagine the astonishment of Victorian Londoners on encountering these vast beasts of which they’d never seen as much as a photograph.

After the exhibition this cavernous ‘Crystal Palace’ was taken down and rebuilt in the South London suburb of Sydenham in an area now know as…Crystal Palace. Alas it was destroyed by fire in 1936. The foundations and some steps and lower sections can still be seen.

The Crystal Palace and its elephants may be no more. However, I’m sure you will believe me when I tell you that there are dinosaurs in nearby Crystal Palace Park.





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