Mass Killings Can Haunt Elephants for Decades

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African elephants that have lived through the trauma of a cull—or selected killing of their kin—may look normal enough to the casual observer, but socially they are a mess. That’s the conclusion of a new study, the first to show that human activities can disrupt the social skills of large-brained mammals that live in complex societies for decades. The finding, experts say, has implications for conservation management, which often solely focuses on the number of animals in a population, and may extend to chimpanzees, dolphins, whales, and other species.

“It is a groundbreaking study, because it is the first to demonstrate, experimentally, a direct connection between the effects of culling and specific psychosocial harms,” says Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and expert on dolphin behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, who was not involved with the research. “It shows unequivocally that elephants are psychologically damaged by culling.”

Wildlife officials often used culling as a conservation tool in South Africa from the 1960s to the 1990s. (It is still reserved as a management tool there.) At the time, wildlife managers worried that if there were too many elephants in a fenced reserve, like the famed Kruger National Park, the behemoths would ultimately destroy the habitat, eating or trampling all the vegetation and uprooting the trees. During a cull, a helicopter pilot herds an elephant family into a tight bunch. Professional hunters on the ground then shoot the animals as quickly as possible. Only young elephants ranging from about 4 to 10 years old are saved. Park officials typically shipped them to other parks that lacked elephants or had smaller populations to increase the herds, because elephants are popular with tourists.

“Some of these elephants ended up in Pilanesberg National Park,” in South Africa’s North West Province where part of the new study was carried out, says Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, and the lead author of the new study. “Twenty to 30 years have passed since the actual cull and relocation.”

Written By: Virginia Morell
continue to source article at news.sciencemag.org

9 COMMENTS

  1. Only young elephants ranging from about 4 to 10 years old are saved. Park officials typically shipped them to other parks that lacked elephants or had smaller populations to increase the herds, because elephants are popular with tourists.

    I saw some video footage of these effects recently. What the cull did was deprive the youngsters of adult role models and the knowledge built up in the herds over generations.
    It also deprived the adolescents of parental discipline and guidance, from matriarchs and from large males, allowing rebellious antisocial behaviour to go unchecked.

  2. at the time, wildlife managers worried…the behemoths would ultimately destroy the habitat

    Sounds similar to the reasoning for “prize hunting” a rhinoceros from the other thread. i.e. the folks in charge pick on the older males because (authoritative voice/paraphrased) all they do is wreak havoc on the rest of the herd.

    I don’t know, this just doesn’t sound like very good science. Never did cotton to the idea of elephant culling.

    On an optimistic note – confined elephants who “get angry” towards humans (owners, trainers) are getting more sympathy from the public e.g. poor thing, no wonder it attacked.

    Kudos to Russel Simmons who publicly chastised / urged a boycott against a certain traveling circus.

    • In reply to #2 by bluebird:

      Kudos to Russel Simmons who publicly chastised / urged a boycott against a certain traveling circus.

      I know someone who works for such a circus – he had a disturbing collection of bull hooks and felt that hitting elephants was necessary. We don’t talk anymore.

      The local zoo has a former circus elephant who picked up her handler and threw him against a wall, killing him. The circus wrote it off, saying she was trying to “protect” him from some electrical wires. The zoo works with her only in protected contact.

  3. I have often thought the way to control the demand for African ivory was to have those hunting tour people change their focus and send hunters to China, looking for pandas. Too bad if it is their iconic animal, their teeth make good naturopathic medicines. The place to stop the demand for ivory is within the countries that consume it.

  4. I find it so frustrating that it has to be shown over and over that large mammals actually have feelings and can suffer in ways that in many ways are similar to human suffering. It should of course be the other way around. We should assume other mammals are capable of suffering to the same extent as we are, until we have demonstrated otherwise. This just goes to show the immense ignorance even educated people have with regard to other mammals. Especially with regard to moral behavior. We think we are so enlightened and civilized. I’m pretty sure future generations (unless we manage to destroy human civilization) are going to look at our behavior and be just as disgusted at how we treat other animals as we are when we think about how blacks or other ethnic minorities were treated back in the days. It just makes me sad and ashamed of our species

  5. Richard Connor, a cetacean biologist at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, adds: “It is difficult to not conclude that the legal killing or illegal poaching of elephants is not only inhumane, it is barbaric.”

    Yes, lets wake up people! We are not the only conscious creatures on earth, nociceptors and the reward circuitry are much
    older than our species.

  6. Prior to the last century, a mass cull of elephants could not happen. They would lose at most one member at a time, and probably sick or infant. An adult elephant really does have to worry much about predators other than man.

  7. Not so long ago, my family and I were privileged to live about 3km away from one of the gates to the Kruger National Park.It was a joy to pack a picnic and spend a day in the park.

    The ancient looking and stately elephants were always a delight to watch.It saddens me to know that they might have been creatures who watched the mass murder (no, I won’t use the word ‘culling’) of their families.

    I admire Peter Singer for raising consciousness about the rights of animals.

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