Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Elephants Gone Wild

Kitty and I recently were paid a visit by our close mutual friend, David Beattie who is a safari guide based in Zimbabwe, Africa. Of the many stories he told us of his last year in the wilds was one about his good friend being killed by an elephant. The details of the mauling were disturbing enough, but according to him and as confirmed by a simple search of the news, elephants have sort of gone wild all over the world as of late...even in zoo environments.

As to why this has been happening, David put forth the theory that many of these mad elephants are essentially teenagers without adult supervision. He says that legal campaigns to separate elephant children from their parents have taken place world wide such that many elephants are orphans. (a truly frightening thought in the human world.) Even worse, since an elephant remembers just about everything...they are very upset at humans for having taken their parents. Sure enough, elephant researchers worldwide have come to similar conclusions.

Imagine a gang of teenagers, each weighing nearly 7 tons rampaging through the streets after a keg party goes bad. (Elephants actually do get drunk by eating fruit that has fermented on the ground and raiding stores of liquor and beer.) These wild eyed teen elephants are crushing cars, stomping innocent bystanders and and knocking houses down...literally. Since we don’t have wild herds of elephants in this country, the only thing that compares would be scenes in movies when aliens, (War of the Worlds) large apes, (like King Kong) or monstrous marshmallow men (Ghost Busters) reek havoc on Manhattan. Although exaggerated for the movies, this is the kind of fear and destruction these teen pachyderms can spread.

Fortunately it doesn’t take a battalion of National Guard to stop them. According to several elephant researchers, the only thing that works is “their mothers and their aunties” Heard that before boys?

According to one researcher: “Elephants are social creatures with defined roles for everyone in the herd. The herd is matriarchal, dominated by mothers and aunties. When the male babies grow to adolescence, they are kicked out of the herd, leaving their sisters and mother behind. Like most teenagers, they are relatively harmless, ripping up bushes and pushing down trees as a way of showing off to one another. But occasionally one of them will go rogue. Some social gene in their brain fails to kick in and they run amok, creating havoc.” (which has been proven to happen in the human teenager as well.)

“The usual remedy for a rogue elephant is to shoot it. (they do that to human teenagers frequently in the larger metro areas). Left to their own devices, they'll destroy things and corrupt their peers. One creative solution for a bachelor herd that has been corrupted by a rogue is to bus in an elephant mother. Inevitably, the mother reestablishes order in the herd.”

As another researcher stated: “As I reflect on the state of the American teenager hanging out in herds that roam our nation's malls and sneer at their elders, it seems to me that a good solution might be to parachute in a few mothers to reestablish order.”

Hmm...makes me this the same effect that has most football players greeting their Mom when put on camera? If hockey referees were matronly women, would there be the nightly display of violence that sport is known for? Do the mothers of rowdy boys hold the key to world peace? But I digress.

One thing is for sure...if you watch videos of teen elephants gone wild, you will understand the severity of the problem. All one has to do is Google “elephants gone wild” and you will be met with links to some of the most gruesome videos of any kind you will ever see. Elephants killing people and destroying property might be even worse than being hit by an alien death ray or being tossed like a rag doll by King Kong. These elephants don’t know when to quit. I have put a few of these links up for you viewing pleasure (not), but be forewarned, this is not for the faint of heart. Elephant kills man. Elephants kill many men and tear up buildings.

Why are elephants responding to all this human interaction and abuse in such a violent way? Perhaps they have no alternative. We treat them like cattle and swine yet with a mass of over 11 pounds elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal, and although the largest whales have body masses twentyfold those of a typical elephant, whale brains are barely twice the mass of an elephant's. A wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, making music, art, altruism, play, use of tools,compassion and self awareness evidence a highly intelligent species on par with the smartest primates. (the category humans belong).

As humans continue to kill the elephants parents and take away their habitat, perhaps they should remember the immortal words of Peter Finch in the film “Network”, when he proclaimed “we are human beings (in this case, elephants) and we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore”.

When you think about it, humans send our teenagers to fight our wars....maybe that’s what the elephants are doing.

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