Author Topic: Elephants never forget . . . and cannot forgive  (Read 1995 times)


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Elephants never forget . . . and cannot forgive
« on: February 19, 2006, 02:15:04 PM »
The Times    February 16, 2006

By Thair Shaikh

THEY say that elephants never forget, and it could be that they are using their memories to exact revenge on people who make their lives a misery.

A new study says that the usually gentle giants may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by frightening experiences at an early age.

In parts of Uganda they have raided villages, demolished huts and destroyed plots, not in an effort to get at food but to scare the people living there.

Such attacks have become more frequent in Bunyaruguru, western Uganda, where only two years ago villagers would think nothing of cycling to the nearby township of Katwe to meet friends and do business.

But they have to be more careful now because elephants regularly block the roads, and villagers are too afraid to cycle past.

According to the report in New Scientist, elephants across Africa seem to be turning on their human neighbours in ever-increasing numbers. In the past such attacks have always been seen as a side-effect of elephants competing for food and land, as a result of an expanding human population encroaching on elephant land.

Joyce Poole, research director at the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, in Kenya, said: “They are certainly intelligent enough, and have good enough memories, to take revenge. Wildlife managers may feel it is easier to just shoot so-called ‘problem’ elephants than face people’s wrath.

“So an elephant is shot without realising the possible consequences on the remaining family members, and the very real possibility of stimulating a cycle of violence.”

Dr Poole and her colleagues claim that many elephants are suffering from PTSD brought on by experiencing stress at an early age, thought to be the first time it has been diagnosed in wild animals.

Experiments and observations of captive animals suggest that stress experienced during their early years can lead to neurological and behavioural changes that resemble PTSD in humans. Guy Bradshaw, a scientist at Oregon State University and lead author of the paper, said: “This could explain a suite of behaviours that have been common in captivity but sadly now are becoming part of wild elephant behaviour.”

Dr Felicity de Zulueta, a consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London, who specialises in trauma therapy and grew up in Uganda with an orphaned elephant as a pet, believes the theories have a good basis of truth.

She said that one cause of PTSD in humans is the failure of a child to bond or “attach” properly with its primary carer.

“Prematurely separating an elephant from the family tribe will have very powerful effects in terms of the attachment system. One of these effects would be aggression,” she said.

Poaching has ravaged elephant numbers in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, which borders Bunyaruguru, by 90 per cent over the past 30 years. Now only 400 remain — a third of them under five years old and many of them orphans. Across the continent many herds have lost their matriarchs and have had to make do with a succession of inexperienced “teenage mothers” who have raised a generation of juvenile delinquents.

Dr Poole’s study showed a lack of older bulls had led to gangs of hyper-aggressive young males with a penchant for violence towards each other and other species.

Richard Lair, a researcher of Asian elephants at Thailand’s National Elephant Institute, said that the same problems are being seen in India, where villagers, particularly in West Bengal, live in constant fear of bull elephants that the villagers claim attack the village to kill people.
The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” - Charles Baudelaire (French and monstrous poet).