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NYT: An Elephant Crackup?

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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 09:19 AM
Original message
NYT: An Elephant Crackup?
No, this isn't about the Republicans. It's really about elephants, and about us, humanity. This is a chilling read, literally; my spine still is tingly as I post this - it's a must read - mind-expanding for those who know something of elephants, mind-blowing for those who don't. Please read beyond the excerpt I posted, because the most amazing information lies deep within the article, and is too extensive to be excerpted under copyright rules.

By CHARLES SIEBERT
Published: October 8, 2006

All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a whole new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

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 1990s, 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.

In a coming book on this phenomenon, Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist at the environmental-sciences program at Oregon State University, notes that in India, where the elephant has long been regarded as a deity, a recent headline in a leading newspaper warned, To Avoid Confrontation, Dont Worship Elephants. Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed, Bradshaw told me recently. What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relative peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence. Now, I use the term violence because of the intentionality associated with it, both in the aggression of humans and, at times, the recently observed behavior of elephants.

For a number of biologists and ethologists who have spent their careers studying elephant behavior, the attacks have become so abnormal in both number and kind that they can no longer be attributed entirely to the customary factors. Typically, elephant researchers have cited, as a cause of aggression, the high levels of testosterone in newly matured male elephants or the competition for land and resources between elephants and humans. But in Elephant Breakdown, a 2005 essay in the journal Nature, Bradshaw and several colleagues argued that todays elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/magazine/08elephant.h...


The article provides illuminating detail on these profoundly social animals, the intricate and sophisticated familial and hierarchical structure of elephant herd life, and how it impacts even hormonal development of younger elephants. The social structure of elephant life is breaking down due to human intervention, human destruction of habitat, poaching, and the effects of human war on humans.The elephants in fractured herds behave aberrantly, in many of the same ways as do captive elephants, and scientists from a number of fields are beginning to examine this new phenomenon. Gay Bradshaw in particular is combining traditional research into elephant behavior with insights about trauma drawn from human neuroscience. The article calls this new behavior not a collection of isolated incidents but a pervasive pachyderm dysfunction. Zoos are beginning to realize the inappropriateness of keeping elephants in their exhibits, and the Bronx Zoo is taking steps to phase out its elephant exhibit accordingly. This is a fascinating and important article.

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beyurslf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 10:03 AM
Response to Original message
1. I read an interesting article on elephants and their culture a couple of
months ago. They have complex culture and society. They live in families for generations. They are 1 of 5 animals (including humans) who recognizze themselves in a mirror. They can remember a human voice that they knew for decades. They recognize their dead, and will cover them after they have fallen. They have also been observed to stand in a circle aroud a spot where a dead family member was laid years after it happened. Simply amazing animals.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 10:07 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Absolutely fascinating. They will caress the bones of their dead
in the same way they would have greeted them when alive, and they show the same respect for human dead (including those they kill) as they would their own dead.
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beyurslf Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 10:25 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Yeah. When I read the article I didn't know much about them. They are
truly amazing animals. Funnily enough, the article was in some travel magazine at my doctor's office. I had to carry it back with me so I could finish reading it. I was just going to flip through for pictures of Africa when I stumbled on the article. :)
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ninkasi Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 10:25 AM
Response to Original message
4. This is such an incredible article
I hope everybody takes the time to read this. It is fascinating on so many levels, and gives important clues about the dangers of continued stress and the effect it has on elephants and humans alike. It immediately, to me, makes it easier to understand why war must be stopped. The trauma endured by all, especially children, in areas torn by years of violent conflict, is criminal.
We have to start working together to solve the world's problems, or we will self destruct.

What we humans have done to the world's other animals is shameful. We just have to find ways to live in peace with each other, and with the earth.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 11:42 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. Indeed...yet I believe the thread will sink like a stone with so
much else of importance going on. :sigh:
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rodeodance Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 03:22 PM
Response to Original message
6. "the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, "




I thought back to a moment in Queen Elizabeth National Park this past June. As Nelson Okello and I sat waiting for the matriarch and her calf to pass, he mentioned to me an odd little detail about the killing two months earlier of the man from the village of Katwe, something that, the more I thought about it, seemed to capture this particularly fraught moment weve arrived at with the elephants. Okello said that after the mans killing, the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it.

Even as were forcing them out, it seems, the elephants are going out of their way to put us, the keepers, in an ever more discomfiting place, challenging us to preserve someplace for them, the ones who in many ways seem to regard the matter of life and death more devoutly than we. In fact, elephant culture could be considered the precursor of our own, the first permanent human settlements having sprung up around the desire of wandering tribes to stay by the graves of their dead. The city of the dead, as Lewis Mumford once wrote, antedates the city of the living.

When a group of villagers from Katwe went out to reclaim the mans body for his familys funeral rites, the elephants refused to budge. Human remains, a number of researchers have observed, are the only other ones that elephants will treat as they do their own. In the end, the villagers resorted to a tactic that has long been etched in the elephants collective memory, firing volleys of gunfire into the air at close range, finally scaring the mourning herd away.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 07:41 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. Didn't that line about "as it would one its own" give you the chills?
I know that's what it did to me.
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ninkasi Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 04:18 PM
Response to Original message
7. What a shame
more people don't read this article. I'm printing it for my husband to read, and sending a copy to one of my cousins. It's the kind of thing that gives me goose bumps, because it's so amazing to me that our species exhibit such common patterns of behavior. Oh, well, unless this thread gets more nominations, this truly fascinating article will, indeed, sink like a stone.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 07:41 PM
Response to Reply #7
10. Glad to see a few more folks read it while I was out...
:)
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bhikkhu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 05:35 PM
Response to Original message
8. I read a little about this a couple of years ago
in an article not so centered on widespread problems, but on one African game reserve. Analyzing aggressive or unmanageable behavior in some elephant groups the common factor was found to be the loss of older elephants, and it was theorized that the older and more experienced in the group acted as moderating influences and examples of acceptable behavior, much as they do in human populations.

Poachers seeking ivory, of course, kill the most impressive old ones and leave the immature for another day resulting in, it seems, an elephant "lord of the flies" situation.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 07:43 PM
Response to Reply #8
11. "Lord of the Flies" -- good analogy, that.
I hope more people do read this, though. I've sent it out to about two dozen people today alone, besides posting it here in a couple of the less-visited groups, plus GD.
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hatrack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 09:59 PM
Response to Original message
12. "The Fate Of The Elephant" by Douglas Chadwick - strongly recommend!
A beautiful and heartbreaking book.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-09-06 08:21 AM
Response to Original message
13. Kickin' for the elephants...
:kick:
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hlthe2b Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-10-06 02:23 PM
Response to Original message
14. I dearly wish to get every DUer to read this....
This article is why I have NO tolerance, ZERO, ZILCH, for narrow-minded people who hold the view that all animals are just "dumb" and "unfeeling" and that those of us to discuss animal behavior in terms of "emotion," are just anthropomorphizing...


I have a very special place in my heart for these elephants. If we could solve their problems, I think we'd go a long way in solving our own.

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Uncle Joe Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-10-06 08:06 PM
Response to Original message
15. I never dreamed, I would read about elephants raping rhinoceroses,
that just blows my mind :wow: We are just crowding them out of their world and they are having nervous breakdowns.

Kicked, too late to recommend

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