Environmentalism

Angry Young Heffalumps

|

The BBC reports:

Elephants can recognise their own reflection, showing self-awareness seen before only in humans, great apes and bottlenose dolphins…

Co-researcher Frans de Waal said: "As a result of this study, the elephant now joins a cognitive elite among animals commensurate with its well-known complex social life and high level of intelligence….These parallels between humans and elephants suggest a convergent cognitive evolution possibly related to complex sociality and cooperation."

Now the bad news: Babar's on the warpath. From a New York Times Magazine article published last month:

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 new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990's to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of 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….

"Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed," [psychologist Gay] Bradshaw told me recently. "What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence."

Not content to attack people, some of the beasts have taken to killing and raping rhinos as well. There has also been an explosion of elephant-on-elephant violence: At one South African national park, "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."

As we fight this two-front war against the elephants and the baboons, scientists are discovering sad and fascinating parallels between frayed pachyderm and human societies. The Times piece cites the work of Eve Abe, an animal ethologist who earned her doctorate comparing human and elephant children orphaned by Uganda's civil war. "All these kids who have grown up with their parents killed—no fathers, no mothers, only children looking after them…They have no schools, no hospitals. No infrastructure," Abe told the Times. "They form these roaming, violent, destructive bands. It's the same thing that happens with the elephants."

On a positive note, villagers in Malawi have found a non-lethal line of defense against pachyderm attacks: chili peppers. "Elephants hate the smell of chili, especially when the stems have been burnt," wildlife official Mathias Elisa told the Inter Press Service a while back. "It appears they…distance themselves from where the chili is growing." Hot peppers: Is there anything they can't do?

NEXT: Motorin' Blues

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Fascinating stuff. I figure, one of these days, we’ll come to a peaceful resolution and welcome great apes, elephants, and dolphins into the confederation of sentient species.

    I can remember, perhaps a decade ago, reading the “Earth Report” section of my newspaper, and there being a piece about Baboon attacks. Sounded freaky and amusing at the time. Tending more towards freaky lately.

  2. Elephants can recognise their own reflection, showing self-awareness seen before only in humans, great apes and bottlenose dolphins…

    These parallels between humans and elephants suggest a convergent cognitive evolution possibly related to complex sociality and cooperation.

    Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed

    Elephants: think “G.O.P.”

  3. It’s those damn elephant videogames.

  4. “taken to killing and raping rhinos”

    Please tell me you’re killing.

    Inter-species rape by elephants has to be one of the scariest things I’ve ever heard of.

  5. Elephants…are raping…rhinos?
    What the…!

  6. Ed said, “Elephants…are raping…rhinos?
    What the…!”

    The stories about elephants recognizing themselves in the mirror point out that previous experiements along this line failed because the mirrors weren’t big enough: elephants have very poor eyesight.

    Maybe that also explains some of the unfortunate rhino action. On the other hand, going with the analogy suggested above: GOP attacking RINOs sounds like a good idea.

  7. PETA must have gotten those photos from inside the B&B circus out to the elephants!

    How do they know the elephant/rhino sex isn’t consensual. Almost all animal sex I’ve ever seen looked like rape…

    Why can’t elephant/rhino inter-species relationships work? why can’t they just leave them alone… Animal bigots! 😉

  8. Well rhinos are always . . . horny! Get it? Horny!

    . . .

    I am sorry.

  9. That’s got to be rough on the rhinos. An elephant’s penis is like a railroad tie.

  10. “All these kids who have grown up with their parents killed — no fathers, no mothers, only children looking after them…They have no schools, no hospitals. No infrastructure,” Abe told the Times. “They form these roaming, violent, destructive bands. It’s the same thing that happens with the elephants.”

    Many thanks to pricks like Ted Nugent for killing elephants and thereby creating human-elephant conflict. What kind of society have we become?

  11. I believe we must work tirelessly to ensure that our children, and our children’s children, are provided with the security which can only be guaranteed by an Amendment to the Constitution banning, explicitly and forever, marriage between elephants and rhinoceroses!

  12. That’s got to be rough on the rhinos. An elephant’s penis is like a railroad tie.

    I’m not going to ask how you know that.

  13. We need to get these elephants some schools, hospitals, and infrastructure to create an alternative to roaming in violent, destructive bands.

  14. The NYT Magazine story is pathetically incomplete without mentioning the elephant musth, the freakishly pon-farr-like madness period of male elephants that intensifies as they get older.

  15. This means war!

    From the mind of Tim Bedore:
    http://www.vaguebuttrue.com/bt2_4416m.mp3

  16. We need to get these elephants some schools, hospitals, and infrastructure to create an alternative to roaming in violent, destructive bands.

    And midnight basketball! Midnight basketball for elephants!

  17. I for one welcome our future pachyderm overlords.

  18. …killing and raping rhinos…

    In that order? Necrophiliac interspecies rapists – that’s extra sick.

  19. raping rhinos

    he said/she said

  20. You know what would straighten out these murderous raping elephants? Five minutes with Chuck Norris.

  21. Appellate Judge Posner wasn’t pissing; young Milton wasn’t pissing and I am not pissing. That is where your claim . . . falls to the ground.
    http://www.mirei.com

  22. The NYT Magazine story is pathetically incomplete without mentioning the elephant must, the freakishly pon-farr-like madness period of male elephants that intensifies as they get older.
    Dripping Springs Remodeling Contractor

  23. They have no schools, no hospitals. No infrastructure,” Abe told the Times. “They form these roaming, violent, destructive bands. It’s the same thing that happens with the elephants.”
    Round Rock Door Contractors

  24. Really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us.Great site and a great topic as well i really get amazed to read this.
    State Divorce

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.