Monday, October 09, 2006

Elephant vs. Mankind

In yesterday's New York Times Magazine there was an article called An Elephant Crackup? which talked about what is now being called Elephant Breakdown, a wide-spread increase in human/elephant conflict.

It appears that people are blaming the elephants for increasing violent behavior, which includes attacks on villages and individuals. "Still, it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity — for want of a less anthropocentric term — of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in “a number of reserves” in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities."

What is causing this wholesale breakdown of elephant culture? Human encroachment of habitat; poaching and culling; human intervention which has so disrupted the natural elephant way of life. And human response? In India, people are being told to stop worshiping the elephant in order to avoid conflict when they go out and kill elephants.

"It has long been apparent that every large, land-based animal on this planet is ultimately fighting a losing battle with humankind. And yet entirely befitting of an animal with such a highly developed sensibility, a deep-rooted sense of family and, yes, such a good long-term memory, the elephant is not going out quietly. It is not leaving without making some kind of statement, one to which scientists from a variety of disciplines, including human psychology, are now beginning to pay close attention."

Elephants are profoundly social creatures. A family group is matriarchal; elephant young are raised by the birth mother; grandmothers; aunties; friends. When an elephant dies, the herd goes through intense mourning as it buries the body - during a weeklong vigil they cover the body with earth and brush. They visit the bones for years after, exhibiting love and care. They are aware of danger to one another, and they communicate danger over long distance. They remember.

But through systematic poaching, habitat destruction, culling, the numbers of older elephants has drastically fallen, leaving young elephants to fend for themselves. Calves are being born to younger, inexperienced elephants and the young males have fewer older bull elephants to keep them in check and teach them elephant behavior. These orphaned elephants have often witnessed the massacre of their elders. And we wonder at why they are reacting with aggression?

We can look to the elephant behavior for a prediction of what will happen over time in Iraq, in Afghanistan as we bring our brand of democracy to the world. We can look to the elephant behavior to predict what will happen to the AIDS orphans in South Africa.

"The elephants of decimated herds, especially orphans who’ve watched the death of their parents and elders from poaching and culling, exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders in humans: abnormal startle response, unpredictable asocial behavior, inattentive mothering and hyperaggression. Studies of the various assaults on the rhinos in South Africa, meanwhile, have determined that the perpetrators were in all cases adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot down in cullings. It was common for these elephants to have been tethered to the bodies of their dead and dying relatives until they could be rounded up for translocation to, as Bradshaw and Schore describe them, “locales lacking traditional social hierarchy of older bulls and intact natal family structures.” " (emphasis mine.)

We bomb in Iraq. We create orphans. The children of decimated families will exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. And violence begets violence.

Over the weekend, I saw The US Vs. John Lennon. It is a must-see. I end this post with a message from John & Yoko, which is as relevant today as it was during the Viet Nam War:

WAR IS OVER - if you want it


sumo said...

I just hate to read about stuff like makes me feel impotent with rage that this goes on. I don't understand humans and their lack of feelings. It's so sick and awful. They deserve to be dealt the same treatment.

I can't wait to see this movie...I have heard the buzz recently.

Tina said...

Isn't it strange that the one animal that shows such enormous compassion and depth of emotion represents the very political party in this nation that displays ABSOLUTELY NONE of these qualities? And this is one of the things that just absolutely kills me about the GOP supposed pro-life crowd: They claim to have such a reverance for all life, yet they could care less about any and all animals, human children once they cease to be in utero, and the very thing that sustains ALL forms of life-- the ENVIRONMENT.

And how weird is this: I saw the movie this weekend, too! While Hubby watched BabyGirl Saturday evening, my mom, big sister and I went to Kent State to see "The US vs John Lennon." I can't think of a more timely movie for folks to see (in light of the BushCo trainwrecks of the Patriot Act, NSA illegal spying, and chucking habeas corpus out the window) than this film. We loved it, and the crowd (as one expects from KSU) was very quirky and mixed in terms of ages, and the Chinese restaurant we went to afterwards was packed with folks who had just seen the film and one guy (a prof in his early 50s) talked about how he had actually met Yoko at a gallery opening in the 80s after John was killed. He said folks can say what they want about her "breaking up" the Beatles, but he said she was most kind and gracious, and that she lived for art. Maybe she had to after losing her earthly love.

pekka said...

What a wonderful and moving piece by you! I really like the way your mind works, and I also enjoy your bang on comments elsewhere. You are some wise lady, DivaJood!

Tina took wind out of my sails with her reference to Elephant as a symbol of the GOP. Neverteless, I just add, that the agressive behaviour, that elephants are displaying, is partially due to their disgust of their likeness being asscociated with the scum of the earth. Wouldn't you?

DivaJood said...

Sumo, the elephant behavior is so much a mirror of what our administraton is unleashing on the world. It's tragic.

Tina, I have always found it ironic that the GOP took the elephant as their symbol. For my lifetime, they have never represented what I knew of elephants. And that's so weird that you saw the movie this weekend too! It is a very important film for now. Yoko Ono was, is, and always will be a performance artist - she didn't "break up" the Beatles, she simply helped John Lennon go back to being an artist. They helped each other in amazing ways; and they adored each other.

Pekka, thanks! And you're right, the elephants don't want to be associated with the lying, manipulative sacks of crud that is the current GOP.

Lew Scannon said...

Yoko had as much to do with the break up of the Beatles as Saddam did with 9/11. Once Brian Epstein died the band split up into camps as to who should manage them, with Paul siding with his father-in-law and the other Beatles choosing Allen Klein.
I watched The Beatles Anthology this weekend and it became clear that the problem was McCartney wanting to take all the credit for successes like Sgt. Pepper's, which was mainly his idea (although Lennon wrote the album's best song, as usual) and none of the credit for their failures, such as Magical Mystery Tour which was entirely his idea (although, once again, Lennon wrote the album's best song). And all the time, he was wishing he could attain the artistry that Lennon had achieved, even while he was churning out fluff like Maxwell's Silver Hammer.
Don't get me started on them, because once you do, I never know when to stop.

pissed off patricia said...

What a sad story. Human beings are the problem all over the place. In so many ways animals have a better handle on life than we do and we are taking them out one by one. Imagine what a wonderful world it would be if we admired and respected ourselves and all the other creatures with which we share our planet.

Pete's Blog said...


I can see your message but there are holes in logic which steer it away from simple "humans are bad". It seems young males, be they Human or elephant, are directly involved in most violent acts.

Elephants are smart. Young human males are expected to decide not to be violent so then why not young male elephants?


DivaJood said...

Lew, that's a great analogy - and I get it about not knowing when to stop. Actually, as a teen, I tried to ship myself to John. It didn't work. However, Paul's resentment toward John became legendary. Paul never had the depth, never had the soul.

POP, poaching and culling of elephants has drastically reduced the numbers of elders - and without that guidance, the youngsters don't know how to behave.

Pete, elephants are exhibiting PTSD, and, lacking the guidance of the elders, they are forming gangs. It is a similar behavior to young human males.