How to Get an Elephant in Times Square


Written by Wendy Gerber, Chief Content Strategist

Elephants are among the most intelligent creatures on our planet. They also play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. While most New Yorkers haven’t seen elephants up close, except in zoos, there have been anti-poaching and elephant trafficking awareness building campaigns in Times Square before. They’ve focused on billboard campaigns to save elephants and crushing ivory to protect elephants from extinction and demonstrate the U.S. Government’s commitment to stopping poaching and wildlife trafficking.

But what if you wanted to save elephants by actually bringing the world’s largest land mammal to Times Square which, on its busiest days, has pedestrian counts as high as 450,000 people? How would you go about getting an elephant in Times Square?

From first glance, NYC prohibits any animals that “are naturally inclined and capable of inflicting harm upon human beings.” This mean no lions, no tigers, no bears (and presumably no elephants). But there are a few exceptions to this rule: a zoo, a park, a lab, a circus or wildlife rehab center, and most importantly, gaining a Wild Animal Exhibition Permit from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DoHMH), and following the specific necessary steps to be above board with your elephant.

“An animal whose possession is prohibited pursuant to this section may be seized by any authorized employee, officer or agent of the Department or of any other agency of the City of New York” –  since you’re trying to protect these majestic giant mammals, you certainly don’t want your elephant to get handcuffed and brought downtown!  

There are specific health requirements as well. The Exhibiting Exotic Animals application specifies: “For Elephants, New York State requires tuberculosis vaccination within the past 12 months.” Perhaps by the time this goes to press, Covid boosters may be required as well. Be sure to get updated information from the DoHMH – Office of Veterinary Public Health Services. Their application covers species-specific requirements, including rabies.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the permitting safari. Applying for a DoHMH permit does not satisfy regulatory requirements of other City, State and Federal Agencies. All Federal and State regulations regarding the importation and transportation of animals must be adhered to as well, including the USDA’s Animal Welfare Act. It’s the applicant’s responsibility to apply for all other permits, licenses, and authorizations required.

The applicant will also need to speak to the street activity permit office, tell them the scope of the event, plan for the setup (including load in and out), and submit an application and pay the fee (which covers the cost of NYPD assistance with traffic and pedestrian flow). Once it’s approved, the applicant will submit the more detailed site plan, meet with the Time Square Alliance (the Business Improvement District in this instance), meet with NYPD Operations, and execute the event.

The applicant might need additional permits too, like an Amplified Sound permit from NYPD to play the elephant’s favorite tunes, or permits from the Department of Buildings to construct something that provides shade. Needless to say, the applicant must demonstrate knowledge, expertise, and professionalism in the application. New York City needs to give equitable, fair consideration to all applicants, but it can and will deny you if you don’t demonstrate mastery of the high stakes involved with an elephant! It’s a huge responsibility in more ways than one, and permission is at the city’s discretion.

Then of course you’ll need a place to put the elephant overnight. AirBNB’s in NYC are likely out of the question. And visitor passes to NYC zoos don’t yet include elephants.

But if you can get through the permitting and logistics processes, getting an elephant into Times Square will certainly bring crowds to the area and show why these beautiful, intelligent creatures need to be protected. We’ve heard that an elephant never forgets. New Yorkers and tourists alike will surely never forget the elephant in Times Square.

To learn how Capalino can help you accomplish impossible tasks, reach out to Capalino President Travis Terry at

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