The Elephant In The Room

A couple days back, I stumbled upon an old Ted-Ed Originals video on elephants discussing how they are the most social, creative and benevolent creatures on Earth. I already knew that Ellies are cute, giant walking hard drives but it is their emotional intelligence which fascinated me so much. Did you know they can recognize humans they have bonded with after decades apart and they even have their own grammar? Elephants are known to have a strong sense of empathy, altruism and justice – values declining in us humans as I write. They are the only non-human species to mourn their dead ones and they even return to visit graves! Ted explained that convergent evolution has made the elephant brain remarkably similar to the human brain with as many neurons and a highly developed cerebral cortex. 

Soon after I acquired all this new found knowledge, here comes the headline – “In a cruel irony, a man credited with reducing incidents of man-animal conflicts, among many other achievements, suffered a tragic death on World Wildlife Day after being attacked by a wild elephant.” The man was a senior Indian Forest officer and, incidentally, a really good friend of my father. As much as this news was incredibly appalling, it is important to know the actual circumstances around the killing because, as it said in the video, elephant attacks have almost always occurred right after massive poachings or cullings. Was this killing also a deliberate act of revenge and, if so, can the elephant be saved from the consequences? 

The officer, who had worked extensively to reduce elephant killings in South India, was out in the woods with a group of fifteen men to inspect a forest fire and, as per my research, he was carrying no weapons with him. Now, wild animals become extremely agitated when stuck in a forest fire, unable to guarantee their own or their herd’s safety, desperate to escape. This particular Ellie was stuck between electrified fences on one side and the forest fire on the other! We know that majority of fires are man-made and the elephants are used to being scared away by fire arms for no reason even though, when unprovoked, they are the most calm animals. Because of their compassionate nature, elephants endure a fair amount of abuse before they snap. And when they do, can you really blame them? 

I tried a lot to figure out what the forest officials did to the elephant who attacked. Often after being branded rouge beasts, they are kept in captivity in a sedated state, never allowed to return to the free wild. If not captured, they face culling, they are shot. Isn’t that too unfair, especially when we know that elephants are capable of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? If we are capable of enraging otherwise very gentle and caring animals to the point of killing, the fault is ours. Humans apparently don’t just drive other humans to madness but also animals! It is obvious that the more exposure elephants have to human beings, their tolerance towards these destructive beings becomes lower. Well, same to heck. People are so difficult – give me an elephant any day. Until then, I am sorry dear Ellies and I hope my species stop colonizing your home. 

 

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