Home Eco-Travel Latest Opinion Recent Opinion

"No one argues with a bear."--Truman Jefferson, High Plains Trapper

Time to Organize and Protect Elephants

The imperiled plight of elephants really chaps my hide. The recent articles in Nature and the New York Times (and now Sydney's Thumb) show that elephant society is in trouble. Habitat is shrinking across the globe because of population pressure and deforestation; poaching continues despite international pressures; and the "culling" or management killing of healthy elephants has disrupted herds.

Now--not unpredictably--we discover that elephants are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That's what Dr. Joyce Poole, Gay Bradshaw, Dafne Sheldrick and other experts have concluded.

The symptoms read like the plight of teenage-boys subjected to drive-by shootings and daily violence: manic behavior, depression, aggression and rage. To compound the problem, adolescent male elephants frequently lack older bulls to teach them how to manage their great strength and power. So many of the older bulls have been killed for their ivory while others have been culled.

Last year's killings (and rapes) of rhinos in South Africa by adolescent male elephants is especially troubling. A South Africa study suggests that the elephants had been witness to the killing of their own parents by wildlife managers because of culling. It should be no surprise that the elephants were deeply disturbed by the slaughter, given what we know about the special sensitivity of elephants to this kind of stress.

The story of elephant mistreatment is enough to make a grown bear cry. First came the imperial warriors, then the great game hunters, then the circuses. Elephants were always known to be bright, loyal and strong, but throughout their long relationship with humans, this only made them more attractive as instruments of war, oddities to be exploited by a would-be P.T. Barnum, or so many tons of ivory to be cashed in on by an opportunist hunter with an elephant gun or poisoned spear.

The most recent threats are continued poaching, population increase and deforestation. Current trends paint an even bleaker picture for the future of elephants, not only in Africa but India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Global warming will worsen their plight.

It's hard to imagine that the conflict can be resolved without radical changes in population policy and land use. For this to occur, human-kind may have to arrive at the awareness that the quality of life on this green and blue planet will be greatly impoverished if such sentient and beautiful creatures are no longer allowed to live in the wild.

Address comments and letters to Fergie: sydney@sydneysthumb.com

(Please note that it is best to begin all feedback with the phrase,"I know it's not a good idea to argue with a bear.")