Given that it’s Sunday, and I need a break from politics, Wall Street bailouts and Congressional pork spending, I decided to write about something different today.
Last week was a long week, on both a work front and a news front. So it was fascinating to come across a late-night show that explored violence directed towards people by elephants. Happy, peanut eating, always-make-you-smile elephants are interacting with humans in an increasingly violent manner across Africa. Most reported confrontations prove fatal to the humans involved – there are only a few survivor accounts to be had.
The working theory behind the broadcast was that the long lives and long memories in elephants have left them traumatized by the ivory killings in the 70s and 80s, when herds were decimated. Many of the babies of yesterday have grown up without adult supervision turning into angry adults, seeking revenge on the beings that have caused such great pain. Given that elephants have a 60-70+ year lifespan, that’s a long time to nurse a grudge.
The producers acknowledged that it was a tough theory to prove, and did their best to provide anecdotal and circumstantial evidence to back up their claims. I thought it was a pretty effective. An MRI scan of an elephant’s brain showed a huge memory area – proportionately equal to if not larger than ours. They live in lifelong family groups, and there’s plenty of documented evidence showing elephants regularly visiting the bones of the dead, for hours at a time.
I thought there was an eerie similarity between the described behavior and the behavior of children and adults in war-torn countries. But hatred, sadness, revenge … those are all human emotions. We’ve always been taught that these emotions are part of our higher awareness – part of what makes us human. If we accept the premise that elephants can have these emotions too then the next step is an uncomfortable one. If elephants possess a level of self-awareness similar to ours, then couldn’t our treatment of elephants be described as either enslaving them for entertainment or work purposes, or committing genocide against them? If elephants were people, how would we describe our treatment of them to date? And would that require a fundamental shift in our thinking about all animals and how we interact with them?
Definitely the most interesting thing I learned or thought about last week. How about you? What did you learn last week that has stayed with you?