Bear in Mind

Exploring the common minds and emotions of people and other animals and their lives together

Answer to the Elephants

How many deaths will it take?

Ankush wounds on Girija Prasad
Ankush wounds on Girija Prasad
Suparna Ganguly
How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

–Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan


A recent article in the Huffington Post describes the stalking and killing of a "man-eating elephant." According to the report and accompanying video, the normally herbivorous elephant was a "serial killer" who had annihilated seventeen people in an "act of revenge" after her calf was killed. The DNA analysis and autopsy revealed that stomach contents contained human remains. The cause was openly identified: "humans are to blame for the herbivore's shocking behavior." [1]

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What elephants are doing is not surprising. Science readily explains what happens to the brain and soul under unrelenting violence. The real shock is human behaviour.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it's washed to the sea?

For over four hundred years, colonial culture has subjected elephants to mass killing. Elephant habitat and societies have shrunk to a fraction. They are starving. They run and hide in their own lands. They are hunted and captured by a species bent on genocide.[2]

Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?

Animal-human mental and emotional comparability is scientifically well-established. [3,4] The same attributes used to protect humans from illegal imprisonment, slavery, eugenics, genocide, prostitution, and child labour are identified in elephants. Yet, elephants are denied self-determination. It is legal to keep elephants imprisoned in zoos, circuses, and safari parks, torture them, force them to labor, use them in scientific experiments to enhance breeding [5], effect science-approved mass killing (culls), masturbate and force them to breed (not have families, but breed) in captivity [6], and steal babies from their mothers to support institutions of confinement and their employees. [2] As psychologist Peter Kahn recently wrote about the use of animals in research: "Not so long ago, we used to conduct these sort of medical experiments on black people, as Nazis conducted them on Jews."[7]

Girija Prasad undergoing training at temple
Girija Prasad undergoing training at temple
Suparna Ganguly
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?

Countless films, television shows, books, scientific studies, and personal experiences celebrate the elephant and document the profound intelligence, consciousness, emotions, and social lives of the complex pachyderm. Yet people ride elephants, kill them, use them for entertainment, and make a living by endlessly experimenting and researching elephants as they slowly die imprisoned. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will now "allow the importation of 20 elephant hunting trophies annually from Zambia starting this 2011 hunting season."[8]

Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related symptoms in elephants have reached epidemic proportions. [2]

Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?

Elke Riesterer's healing hands
Elke Riesterer's healing hands
Elke Riesterer
Scientists predict that elephants may be extinct within a few years. [9] Elephants in zoos live less than half as long as their free-ranging counterparts and exhibit debilitating symptoms unknown in the wild [10] yet funds are committed to researching elephant "welfare." [11]

The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.

Yes, science explains the tortuous symptoms of the Elephant Soul. It also explains why elephants continue to die. Denial, doubling, cognitive dissonance—modern humanity has cultivated a thousand and one excuses.[2]

If we cannot stop ourselves from doing what we do to elephants and other animals, if we cannot break the grip of denial to embrace ethical right then, to quote Mr. Dylan yet again, a hard rain's a-gonna fall. [12]


Gay Bradshaw is executive director of The Kerulos Center and author of Elephants on the Edge. What Animals Teach Us about Humanity (2009, Yale)

 

[1] Man-eating elephant in India. Huffington Post. Retrieved February 18, 2011 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/18/maneating-elephant-featu...

[2] Bradshaw, G.A. 2009a. Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. Yale University Press, New Haven. 310pp.

[3] Bradshaw, G.A., and B.L. Finlay. 2005. Natural symmetry. Nature, 435, 149.

[4] Bradshaw, G.A., and R.M. Sapolsky. 2006. Mirror, mirror. American Scientist, 94(6), 487-489.

[5] Meeting the Challenge of Conserving Endangered Species. Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Retrieved February 23, 2011 from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/ReproductiveScience/ElephantBreedR...

[6] Bradshaw, G.A. 2010. The Woeful Whale. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 3, 2011 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bear-in-mind/201002/the-woefu...

[7] Kahn, P. 2011. Animal research acceptable? Retrieved February 23, 2011 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/human-nature/201102/is-animal....

[8] Historic Elephant Announcement Made at SCI Convention. Retrieved February 1, 2011 from http://www.theoutdoorwire.com/story/1296552955pp28hhx6psv

[9] African elephants face extinction by 2020, conservationists warn. The Telegraph. August 4, 2008. Retrieved February 23, 2011 from  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3348683/African-elepha...

[10] Clubb, R., M. Rowcliffe, P. Lee, K.U. Am, C. Moss, and G. Mason. 2008. Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants. Science, 322(5908), 1649.

[11] Smithsonian.2010. National Zoo Is Part of Elephant Study Awarded Prestigious Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Retrieved October 22, 2010 from http://newsdesk.si.edu/releases/national-zoo-part-elephant-study-...

[12] Dylan, B. 1962. A hard rain's a-gonna fall

 

 

 

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Ph.D. is the author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity.

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