Reaching Elephant

Photo by Linda Ballard

The South entrance to the Saint Louis Zoo, now known as the Wells Fargo South Arrival Entrance, was renovated in 2010. A pedestrian bridge now leads visitors safely from the parking lot over the street below and past an African landscape dominated by a 19-foot-tall bronze statue of an elephant reaching up into a honey locust tree (pruned to resemble an Acacia tree) as if grazing there. 

Created by one of the most noted sculptors of wildlife, Kent Ullberg, the bronze sculpture is taller than a real elephant, which may stand as high as 13 feet; and at 2.5 tons, it is about half an elephant’s weight. The realistic sculpture has an aged wrinkled skin and a tusk chipped from digging for water. The surrounding setting includes several other life-sized statues of African animals, including a lioness and her cubs, a warthog family, a cobra and a trio of standing meerkats, all by Ullberg and sculptor T.D. Kelsey. 

Ullberg was born in Sweden in 1945 and studied at the Swedish University College of Art in Stockholm. Prior to moving permanently to the United States in 1974, he lived in Botswana for seven years and served the last four of those as curator at the Botswana National Museum and Gallery. He creates from personal experience and says, “I know elephants better than most. I know their kindness, that they are social. I want children to see the preciousness of nature.” 

The growing tree behind the sculpture will change the experience of the piece over the seasons. Installed in 2010, Reaching Elephant and the smaller animal statues were funded by the Casa Audlon Charitable Lead Trust, established by Mahlon B. Wallace III, and Audrey Wallace Otto, and given in memory of their parents, Audrey Faust Wallace and Mahlon B. Wallace, Jr.