Elke with temple elephant, India.

Temple elephant. Photo Credit: Elke Riesterer

Science has brought us face to face with that latter day Faustian expression, “be careful of what you wish for.” The adage warns that present aspirations when fulfilled in the future, may bring ambiguous, unwanted fruits. Fame brings accolades, but also demands; discoveries bring excitement, but also responsibility. So it is the case for the scientific study of elephant minds. We now know what we sought about animal psyches, but will scientists act ethically on this understanding?

Even by the most Cartesian accounts, elephants possess the intellectual and emotional nuances that garner prizes and protection for humans: cognition, grief, love, culture, self-awareness, memory, consciousness, and psychological vulnerability to violence and betrayal. [1] [2] [3] Scientific study after study, publication after publication has dispelled any doubt that elephants and humans share the selfsame psychological attributes that compel protective ethical codes and laws.

It is no anthropomorphic illusion that our pulses quicken in recognition when looking into the eyes of an orphaned elephant infant, or sadden when we see eyes, grown dull and flat, of a battered soul swaying ceaselessly in the confines of a concrete cell. [4] [5] [6] Despite difference in form, our mirror neurons and those of the pachyderm spark in kinship.

Now that science concurs with sensibility, will we act on what we know? Will we exercise our humanity and cede elephants the right to live in the dignity and freedom that science compels? Will we chose Truth, or will we pursue scientific red herrings, diverting attention from the reality of elephant experience, and by default choose the deadly Consequences that arrogant indifference brings?

Literature Cited

[1] Sheldrick. D. 2012. Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[2] Moss, C., H., Croze, P. L., and P. Lee. 2011. The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal. University of Chicago.

[3] Bradshaw, G.A. 2009. Elephants on the edge: What animals teach us about humanity. New Haven: Yale University Press

[4] The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 2012.

[5] Performing Animal Welfare Society. 2012.

[6] Karsten-Smith, G. 2012. Lucy the elephant staying in Edmonton despite animal-rights campaign.  The Province.  

You are reading

Bear in Mind

Choosing Life over Survival

When accidental fences fall to an uncommon connection.

Sea of Sadness

An interview with Suparna Ganguly on Indian Elephants

When Tiger Leaps

A tiger's soul-spark flares in the madness of captivity.