Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A troubling article in New Scientist summarized evidence of increasingly strange behaviour by elephants throughout Africa.
For example, while elephant populations in Uganda are at historic lows and wild forage has never been more abundant, New Scientist reports wild elephants showing unprecedented aggression toward humans, destroying cultivated gardens and in one case invading a village, trampling dwellings and blocking roads.
The article reports that elephants in South Africa's national parks have begun attacking other species -- rhinos, for example -- and each other. In one park, 90 per cent of the male elephants killed are victims of other male elephants, a rate that's 15 times the usual rate of conflict.
Last year, New Scientist says, leading scientists reported that "elephant breakdown" is taking place all over Africa.
What's behind it? Humans are, thanks to both poaching and scientifically planned herd management.
First, scientists now say these highly intelligent animals are exposed to great psychological trauma as they watch humans -- whether poachers or wildlife managers culling herds -- publicly kill members of their tightly-knit families.
Second, in both poaching and managing, complex elephant families are often deprived of both matriarchs who teach the young and mature dominant males who keep young males in line.
The result, New Scientist reports, is dysfunctional families in which teenage mothers without parenting skills are raising "a generation of juvenile delinquents," while the absence of mature dominant males leaves young males with no curbs on their aggression. Some scientists argue that elephants now deliberately direct violence at humans who have traumatized them.
We've been "scientifically managing" elephant populations for half a century and it's only just begun to dawn on us that the mechanisms in which we've meddled are far more complicated than imagined.
Now we discover that the outcomes of our insensitivity -- shooting parents in front of their relatives is devastating for humans, why would we assume elephants don't care? --may eventually affect us as well as the elephants.
-Stephen Hume: Our meddling is driving intelligent animals crazy in today's The Vancouver Sun


Blogger Erin said...

I want to cry.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

I recently listened to a similar story on the good ol’ CBC. It discussed many of the issues you have brought up and drew parallels between the Uganda’s young male elephants and northern Uganda’s male youth population. They pointed out that these parentless young hooligan elephants are much like the uprising male youths who have grown up parentless. Lost and bewildered without the guidance of elders their dysfunction grows and spreads. The same thing is happening with the elephants. It also talked about a starving elephant (due to habitat destruction) stopping trucks on the highway and its starving friends storming out from the bushes to steal food from the back of the trucks. Does this sound like human activity or what? But what will we learn and what will we do? What can we do?

10:37 PM  

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