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What comes to your mind when you think of an elephant?
Unfortunately, the world has come to view elephants as cute tricksters in the circus that perform for a handful of peanuts. These activities may seem harmless and fun at first but, upon closer investigation, a dark and heart-rending fact becomes apparent: for these activities to take place successfully, man has to break the ‘wild’ out of an elephant. The tactics that people use to achieve this are often ignored and hidden from the rest of the world.
This article will help you paint a portrait of a real elephant. It will highlight the beauty of the ‘wild’ in elephants. A closer study of their abilities, personalities and qualities, as they thrive as free and ‘untrained’ wild animals, will reveal an incredibly powerful, gentle and complex creature that deserves respect and, above all, protection. The world strongly believes that “knowledge is power”.
As you come to know more about elephants, may it inspire and move you to look for ways to liberate them from their slavery in this world. So what is it about elephants that should interest you?
It is commonly known that elephants live in herds. These herds are much like a family and revolve around protecting, teaching and looking after calves. The oldest female elephant is known as the matriarch. Just like a grandparent in the family, the matriarch has the widest range of knowledge and experience and this helps her lead the herd to food and water. She also helps maintain unity and discipline in the herd.
Bulls, or male elephants, leave the herd and often live alone or form bachelor groups. Close social or family bonds are formed within the herd. So what happens when one of the members of the herd passes away? What happens when elephants find the dead body of another elephant? Some interesting behaviour has been observed.
Captured footage has shown that elephants use their trunks to quietly investigate the corpses of unknown, dead elephants they come across. A commentator described this as “sniffing for clues”. Many elephants pick up the bones and to feel them with their trunks. They do this in silence. Elephants could quite easily pass the corpse by.
They have food and water to find. Researchers say that elephants need to eat for up to twenty hours a day to build up enough nutrients in their bodies. So, to find elephants spending this much time standing by a corpse indicates that they must be taking the time to do something special, to pay homage. Other footage showed elephants resting their trunks gently on the corpse of a dead elephant.
Humans cannot explain what must be happening inside an elephant’s mind, but this behaviour does suggest that elephants recognise death as the end of life and therefore as something worthy of stopping and acknowledging.
Another interesting fact is that elephants have temporal glands between the eye and the ear. These glands secrete a liquid through a small hole in the face. This often happens when an elephant is excited or very anxious. What is fascinating about this is that often when elephants stand around the corpse of another elephant, these glands stream liquid.
As this is only brought on by strong emotion, what emotion do elephants feel when they discover the corpse of another elephant? Maybe the only way we can relate to it is to think of how we feel when an acquaintance or someone in the community passes away. Often the strong emotions we feel may cause us to give way to tears.
So far we have only looked at examples of elephant herds discovering unknown corpses or corpses of distant relatives. What happens when herds lose one of their own? One wild life conservationist relates how he saw a mother elephant give birth prematurely. Her baby was too small and weak. Although she tried to carry her fading baby to the shade, nestling it between her right tusk and trunk, it died.
The conservationist watching this described how the mother elephant stood over her baby for four days after it had died. This scene ripped through the hearts of many who encountered this video because it is as though we can feel her pain.
Joyce Poole has spent more than twenty years studying how African elephants communicate with each other. She too described a female elephant standing guard over her stillborn baby for three days. Poole commented that, “her head and ears hung down, the corners of her mouth were turned down.” Many may feel this is natural for mothers in the wild and that they have been created with this instinct.
The reality is that most animals don’t hesitate to leave their young behind if they have grown weak or have died. “Survival of the fittest” is a saying often used to explain some of the harsher occurrences in nature. This does not explain the loving nature elephants seem to possess and the care they feel towards each other.
In South Africa, a man known as Anthony Lawrence became famous for rescuing and rehabilitating a group of rogue elephants about to be shot. Lawrence was an international conservationist, environmentalist and head of the Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand. He developed a deeply respectful and close bond with the herd over years.
Lawrence passed away from a heart attack and what followed was truly remarkable. His family said that the herd of elephant arrived at their home and spent about two days there.
It would have taken them twelve hours to walk from where they had been, but they somehow knew their friend was gone, and they walked to pay their loyal respects, remembering the patience and kindness Lawrence had shown them. One article explained that the elephants visit his wife’s home, on the same date, every year since Lawrence’s death. An elephant’s compassion extends across species.
If elephants possess this intense level of feeling, then how does it affect them in other situations? Think of a baby elephant that had to witness its own mother shot by a poacher’s dart or high powered rifle. Many poachers then gouge out the tusks while the elephant is still alive.
The tusks have massive cavities beneath the skin of the elephant’s face, almost like the roots of our teeth. A poached elephant therefore experiences an inhumane and agonising death. Those who kill for ivory do not think of the impact this death will have on the orphan baby elephant left behind.
It has been said the elephant orphans undergo “psychological trauma” after seeing their mothers poached. Even after being rescued or placed in an orphanage for baby elephants, workers have observed that the babies “scream” for the first few days, as if trying to overcome their grief. The tragic effects can last for several years after the death of a family member in the herd.
Poole, mentioned earlier, explains that, “elephants can detect the hand of man in their suffering.” We could compare this to the grief and trauma a person may experience after seeing a loved family member or friend murdered.
How do elephants respond to abuse they face in captivity? An elephant in the wild is used to travelling in big herds and covering great distances. Elephants in captivity are often chained and kept in extreme restraint. They need to undergo an intense and often brutal training program to make them safe for tourists. Bull hooks are used to force elephants to do what is required of them.
Imagine driving through a conservation park in your car, stopping when you see a lone elephant bull, and climbing out your car. You then approach this giant on foot with a bull hook in your hand. The closer you get, the more he starts to flap his ears and trumpet at you.
He begins to mock charge you and then starts the real charge, his ears spread out, tusks held proudly high and his eyes focus on you. The ground shudders beneath your feet with the power of his approach. Your plan is to control this charging elephant with a bull hook. How successful do you think you would be? You would probably end up dead as the weight and power of an annoyed elephant put you back in your place and snapped your silly bull hook in half.
What is the point of this illustration? How much hurt and conditioning must an elephant have to undergo before it can be controlled by a feared master with his bull hook? How long must it take before the human breaks the “wild” out of an elephant?
Elephants, while seeming obedient and happy, may sway their heads and shuffle their feet. These are signs of unnatural behaviour as a result of psychological damage. If elephants have as much feeling and emotion coursing through them to evoke acts of mourning and grieving, we can expect abuse and captivity to have a heavy impact on their emotional and physical behaviour.
Again, we can relate this to humans. Think of the effect abuse has on human victims. The victim may become withdrawn, unable to fight back or defend themselves and ultimately a shadow of the person they used to be. The violent training elephants undergo in captivity conditions them into something that cowers before a mere human a fraction of its size and power.
So why do we need to discuss the horrors that exist in the elephant world? These experiences provide us with a glimpse into the complex nature and rituals elephants possess. It also serves to remind us that we have a lot to learn when it comes to understanding the intricacies of these majestic creatures.
On a deeper level, these stories may even help us find a way to relate to elephants through this strangely shared emotion of mourning a loved one and experiencing the trauma of a violent death or becoming a victim of abuse. May these shared feelings move you to ask, “What can I do to help save elephants?”
The first step is to educate yourself and others. Can you answer the following questions?
Answer: About 100 elephants are killed by poachers.
Answer: Around 400 000 elephants are remaining in Africa.
Answer: This may scare you as many countries are involved. China is the largest destination for ivory. Uganda is in the top ten countries for ivory seized. Tanzania has suffered one of the biggest losses in the elephant population. Thailand plays a big role in the transit of ivory. Kenya is a major exit area for ivory heading to Asia. Do you live in one of these countries?
Answer: Around 3800 elephants are captive, most of them working in the tourism industry.
Answer: You can check for wounds, hurt skin or old scars. Ask the handler to fold the elephant’s ear back so that you can check for bull hook wounds. Other areas to check are around the buttocks, face, trunk, under the chin and feet.
Answer: YES! Never feel your voice is too small and insignificant to make a change and save a life. You can start today by purchasing one or more of the products featured on our website. The world spends millions of dollars buying ivory each year, you can spend a few dollars for beautiful gift for you or for a friend and support an important cause.
Millions are also spent by tourists attending the circus or catching a ride on an elephant. You can be different and you don’t need to spend millions to help save the elephants, even one purchase can lead to something big. Just imagine what would happen if 100,000 people decide to save the elephants and made just one purchase or more.
If you have decided to become a real elephant supporter, make your choice and purchase by clicking here!