Oct
20
2006

Unhappy elephants: photo by Aaron Logan
Unhappy elephants: photo by Aaron Logan

Killer elephants

Why are some elephants turning into killers? Three young male elephants were found responsible for raping and killing 63 rhinos and attacking people in safari vehicles.

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.

What is causing elephants to breakdown?

When the rhino assaults were investigated, researchers determined that the adolescent males involved had all witnessed their families being shot down. When herds were culled, the youngsters were often tethered to the bodies of their dead and dying relatives until they could be relocated. Often these traumatized youngsters are relocated into groups without a mother or father and lacking older matriachs or bulls needed for "socialization".

Normal elephant parenting disrupted

In normal elephant societies, young elephants are

raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years.
When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting.

Orphaned elephants given therapy

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, human caregivers serve as surrogate mothers to young orphan elephants, gradually restoring their psychological and emotional well being to the point at which they can be reintroduced into existing wild herds. The human ‘‘allomothers’’ stay by their adopted young orphans’ sides, even sleeping with them at night in stables. The caretakers make sure, however, to rotate from one elephant to the next so that the orphans grow fond of all the keepers. Otherwise an elephant would form such a strong bond with one keeper that whenever he or she was absent, that elephant would grieve as if over the loss of another family member, often becoming physically ill itself.

Zoos are rethinking elephant's needs

The Bronx Zoo, one of the oldest and most formidable zoos in the country, announced that upon the death of the zoo’s three current elephant inhabitants, Patty, Maxine and Happy, it would phase out its elephant exhibit on social-behavioral grounds — an acknowledgment of a new awareness of the elephant’s very particular sensibility and needs.

The New York Times article is long and may require registration, but has much more information about this issue. If you read it, I would be interested in your comments.

Source article: New York Times

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