Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Elephants - Magnificent Mammals

By Lynda Nanders
AAC volunteer

How did the elephants of the Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand  know that their savior and protector had died?  Lawrence Anthony, who had risked taking into his reservation  an elephant herd scheduled for slaughter, died in 2012.  Immediately afterwards, two herds walked twelve miles to visit his home and stayed quietly there, stayed for two days, showing their respect and mourning their human friend. 

Anthony risked taking the first of his elephants because they were about to be killed.  They had been identified as rogue and highly dangerous.  Why?  Because they were suffering post traumatic shock.  The fact that mammals (and perhaps other non-human creatures) experience post traumatic shock is well studied and documented in Bradshaw’s Elephants on the Edge.  This ties in with Jane Goodall’s observations.  Non-humans do have less intellectual power than humans, but they do think, and their emotions are very, very close to ours. Jeffrey Moussieff Masson, explores the emotional lives of many mammals and birds, as well as of elephants, in his When Elephants Weep.

Lawrence Anthony wrote of his experiences with elephants in The Elephant Whisperer. Revealing their ability to plan and to act together, the elephants Nana and Frankie toppled a tree to break through their enclosure. Once they were safely on the reservation  (5,000 acres) again, they learned from Anthony, in ways that we do not understand, that they were safe and should stay.

Nana revealed both her ability to plan and her wish to help other animals when she opened the gate enclosing 30 nyala who were to be moved.  She did not take their food, but desired to help them by setting them free. Elephants follow their matriarch. They live in a mutually supportive social structure.  They celebrate every birth and help raise the young.  When Nandi’s baby was born with deformed feet, the other elephants tried repeatedly to help her stand.  Anthony and the rangers were able at last to take the baby, whom they named Thula, away from her protective mom.  They worked with a vet and their own ingenuity to get that baby to walk.  However, later, the herd came to Anthony’s house.  Wisely, he rubbed Thula’s scent into his shirt and showed this to the elephants.  They understood that the baby was safe, that the humans were helping, and then they left.  The baby died  later, and the elephants mourned her body as it decomposed on the veldt.

Elephants, like primates, enjoy painting!  We are learning to respect animals’ emotions, and, now, we should look into their aesthetic awareness, also.  Bears have been observed standing up gazing at sunsets. Katya Arnold teaches art to children and to elephants. She has written a children’s book, Elephants Can Paint .  There is more information about the elephant art and samples for sale on

Another delightful children’s book, full of information that many adults do not have, is Face to Face With Elephants by Joubert.

I have mentioned only a few books about elephants.  Our library system has thousands!  One suggestion for choosing books on this topic is to check the publishing date.  The more recently such a book has been written, the more useful and accurate it is likely to be.  Unfortunately, we are just now beginning to understand and appreciate the abilities and feelings of other animals on our planet.  We do not understand, for example, why the elephants understood Anthony’s conversations,; however, he was able to persuade them to trust him at difficult times.  We do not know how they communicate with one another through their “tummy rumbles” as well as their trumpeting.  We do know the threats against their survival – habitat destruction, hunting (usually sanctioned by governments under the euphemism “culling”) and poaching.  We should, if we, like them, are moral beings, start protecting them. We know that the wild is the place for them.  Anthony had to relate to his elephants in order to rescue them and care for them.  He hoped that this situation would be temporary, and he discouraged his workers from any personal contact.  He finishes his book with, “To me, the only good cage is an empty cage.

1 comment:

Heather Sessions said...

Great blog Lynda. Very nice meeting (and working with) you yesterday. Keep up the good work AA!