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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 09:21 AM
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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.

It's a chilling confirmation of the interconnectedness of all life on this planet, and yet another wake-up call.

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.

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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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 09:51 AM
Response to Original message
1. Consider cross posting this to the science forum
because, you're right about how social animals react under extreme stress and its implication for other species, including our own.

I'm glad the Bronx Zoo is phasing out the elephant exhibit. Elephants are social animals, and keeping them is solitary or with only a few of their own kind is cruel, inhumane.

Then again, maybe someone told them they'd been co opted as the neocon mascot. I'd resent that, too.

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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 09:52 AM
Response to Reply #1
2. Thanks...I thought about it, but wasn't sure. Will do so, now.
Edited on Sun Oct-08-06 09:54 AM by mcscajun

I've also e-mailed the link to most of my address book, I feel that strongly about this.
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Delphinus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 11:05 AM
Response to Original message
3. What a remarkable story.
Very, very moving - showing, clearly, once more, that we are all connected.
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-08-06 11:43 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Yes it is, yet I believe not too many will see it, with so much else
of importance commanding their attention. :sigh:
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mcscajun Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-09-06 08:21 AM
Response to Original message
5. Kickin' for the elephants...
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ramapo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-09-06 12:32 PM
Response to Original message
6. I couldn't read the article
Just didn't have the emotional strength. I knew it would be heartbreaking. Elephants are amazing social animals and we're destroying their society.
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