CoExistence is an environmental art exhibition featuring 100 life size lantana elephants.
As the herd make their way around the globe, they will tell the story of our crowded planet, the effect of human encroachment on wild spaces and the inspiring ways we can coexist with all the other living beings that make our world magical – from tigers and orangutans to nightingales and elephants.
The herd started life in the Nilgiri Hills of Southern India, where they were created by the indigenous communities who live alongside their real-life counter parts. Covered mostly by tea and coffee plantations and patches of forest, the Nilgiri hills are home to a quarter of a million people and 150 magnificent wild elephants who roam a matrix of human dominated landscapes. Here people and elephants coexist in denser populations than anywhere else in the world.
The 100 strong herd are life-size and modelled on real wild elephants from the Nilgiri Hills in Southern India.
They have been created deep in the jungles of Tamil Nadu, by the Adivasi tribal communities who live in close proximity to their real-life counterparts.
The material they are made from, lantana camara is from South America, but planted around the world as hedge rows with beautiful flowers. But it’s now a problem across the tropics, and one of the top ten invasive species in the world.
It’s problematic for lots of reasons:
The leaves and young stems contain toxins, which make it inedible for all native animals.
It puts out chemicals that suppress the growth of all other plants.
When cut, it coppices - quickly producing many new shoots that can grow up to six times faster than the mother plant, producing dense and impenetrable thickets.
Each adult plant can produce up to 12,000 seeds, which can germinate even 10 years later. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seeds widely, and it’s also able to grow from cuttings, or pieces of Lantana left on the ground.
It takes over the forest understory; destroys the grasses that are vital for animals, and also all the other forest produce that indigenous communities depend on.
It reduces visibility, forcing forest department field staff and indigenous people to use the same paths, making it more dangerous to manage forests.
It drives animals out of forests and into local people’s croplands as they look for food, increasing negative human-wildlife interactions.
Forest departments and conservationists around the world have been trying to eradicate it for over a century, but it continues to spread. The only way to push it back is to get local people to use the plant for their livelihood – making furniture and sculptures, shredded stems as fuel briquettes or particle boards and multiple other such initiatives.