Elephants are with many of us from our earliest story times. We know they’re strange and wondrous, we sculpt them and paint them until our fingers are sore, but perhaps we’ve forgotten they’re real.
Perhaps it’s too easy to ignore their intelligence, their compassion and love of family. Perhaps we’ve chosen to forget their vast memories, huge strength and deliberate gentleness – all qualities we admire. It’s easier to forget …
Or is it? The research and the science are now increasingly insistent that the wild-born African elephant should be protected from the traumas of indiscriminate massacre and that it should never be sold into isolated captivity.
This short piece links to articles that reference the findings of some of those who have really come to know the elephant.
Charles Siebert, poet, journalist and essayist, in his article “An Elephant Crackup?” in the New York Times (8.10.06) says the following:
“Studies of established herds have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, after which young females are socialized into the matriarchal network, while young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before coming back into the fold as mature adults.”
This bonding, for the first eight years primarily through the mother and then through older members of the herd, is a well-documented part of elephant life.
Now, increasingly understood is what happens to an elephant’s development when its traditional support groups are shattered. Research and first hand experience by such as The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust have reinforced initial observations that such trauma results in behavior similar to that seen so often in young humans who have been exposed to violence and then left without family and community support to help mental healing – aggression, anxiety and mistrust take root.
Perhaps not surprisingly a Ugandan researcher, herself involved at the edges of decades of violence in her own country, was amongst the first to spot the similarities. Dr Eve Lawino Abe, now a London-based animal ethologist and wildlife management consultant, alongside other neuroscientists and psychologists including Dr Allan Schore of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), believes that there is real and sufficient evidence to show the effect of trauma on elephants. It seems their brains and ours are remarkably similar … the difficulty with elephants is that recovery requires considerably more space.
Charles Siebert in “An Elephant Crackup?” is blunt about the future facing the elephant:
“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.”
So here we are, crashing into each other on the same planet, humankind with its restless brain and growing numbers, and the elephant – naturally gentle, intelligent and vulnerable.
What is the point of the elephant? Perhaps this is the point of the elephant – to show us, written large and silent, the awful consequences of our foolish violence and greed.
This largest of all the Earth’s terrestrial animals deserves better than slaughter, than condemnation to a life behind bars.
Here is a link to some of the tireless few trying to repair the damage.
Virginia McKenna OBE runs a charity Born Free (Keep Wildlife in the Wild). They have set up an appeal to raise funds for a sanctuary to save those elephants living in terrible conditions in captivity in Europe. Please click on this link to be taken to their site.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2017
Sources used for this article include the following:
Here are links to two of Charles Siebert’s articles about elephants, both are fascinating:
An Elephant Crackup? (New York Times Magazine)
The following will take you to a recent article on the accumulating evidence regarding the intelligence of elephants: