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Massive Beasts Like Us

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The similarities between elephant and human behavior has been a curiosity to scientists worldwide. These huge beasts are not so different from us. Elephants express profound thought and deeper thinking. They are generally social creatures that grow up in a network of familial relationships. Calves constantly stay by their mother's side until age eight; afterwards, young males live with the older bulls of the herd until they can return as mature adults, while females are taught how to become caregivers for future generations. Their grieving process is also identical to our own. Elephants often mourn the death of a loved one for years, returning to the grave and gently caressing the body with their trunks. Their devotion to their family is just as powerful as the friendships between humans. In order to prevent future elephant attacks, people must first understand the similarities between elephants and themselves.

Because deaths are felt so deeply in elephants, memories of people harming or killing other herd members are not forgotten. Due to the Uganda-Tanzania War in Africa, poaching elephant ivory increased during the 1970's and continued, despite government restrictions. However, ethologists like Eve Abe did not see this as simple poaching; they saw it as a “mass destruction.” Elephants that have witnessed a traumatic event, such as the murder of a matriarch, are more likely to become impulsively violent and attack humans. Many aggressive elephants do not act without reason; they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At a young age, humans invade their life, kill their parents, and ultimately destroy their peaceful environment. More and more calves live neglected lives without a mother figure, and have to become a parent early for the survival of the herd. Humans that had a difficult childhood or early family life also suffer from irritability, aggression, and sometimes even physical ailments. Young elephants have been known to have “nightmares,” waking up suddenly and screaming or trumpeting their trunks. These are clearly signs of stress, as males grow up to be increasingly hostile to humans and target certain villages where traumatic experiences had occurred.

The elephants' bellicose behavior should not be new or surprising; aggression is a common symptom of PTSD. By looking into ourselves, we can understand the elephants' strange behavior, and begin repairing the generations of damage people have caused. Gay Bradshaw, Director the Kerulos Center and co-founder of the International Association of Animal Trauma Recovery, has studied trans-species communication and psychology. Bradshaw and her colleagues agree that elephants and humans are neurologically similar. An M.R.I. scan of the elephant brain shows the same hippocampus and the same sophisticated limbic system as humans. The elephants' increasing aggression is no more surprising than an Iraq war veteran lashing out at an innocent when some event triggers his fight response. When people have experienced severe mental agony, they often commit acts of violence as emotional stress release. Bradshaw postulates that elephant attacks on African villages and communities are the logical emotional response for the abuse people have levied against them. It is possible the elephants are avenging the years of human poaching, human destructing, and human taking of elephant land. Despite the decades of damage done to elephant culture and elephant herds, there is still hope for rebuilding a peaceful relationship between people and animals.

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, abused elephants are treated with psychotherapy and are cared for in a safe, comfortable environment. The Elephant Sanctuary is one of the rehabilitation centers that use human therapy methods to heal brutalized and distressed elephants. Many are saved from lives of isolation and torture in circuses and amusement parks. They are given treatments similar to humans suffering from PTSD. The goal is to gain trust and confidence in life and the beings around them again. In order to function in society, humans need to trust others and accept the trauma that has occurred. Like humans, elephants also want a sense of protection and safety. When these animals arrive at the Sanctuary, they are managed with a passive-control and non-dominance system. People are not allowed to dominate over elephants or use negative tools, such an electrical shock stick. A mutual respect is established between humans and elephants. The caregivers do not withhold any necessities or deprive the animals of any resources. With more space and freedom, elephants can spend time and relate with one another, thus acquiring a sense of security. They respond positively to psychotherapy, and eventually become a healthy, self-serving herd.

Although many see elephants as massive, violent, and simple-minded animals, their social structure is not unlike many human societies. A matriarch commands the general herd, and helps raise calves into mature adults. The strong bonds in a family are as powerful as the friendships within a herd. They are able to empathize past simple survival instincts, and their behavior may have been like the behavior of primitive humans. Humans and elephants have been on parallel paths. However, if people continue practicing ignorance over the harsh treatment of these creatures, then collision will become inevitable. Cruel treatment of elephants still goes on, but by understanding the similarities between us, it can be stopped.


Bibliography:
Allimadi, Milton. BSN. Black Star News, 1 Jan 2009. Web. 15 August 2010.
Bekoff, Mark. “Do Animals Have Emotions?” The Bark. n.p. n.d. Web 8 August 2010.
Economypoint.org. Economypoint.org, 2006. Web. 15 August 2010.
Siebert, Charles. “An Elephant Crackup.” The New York Times. 8 Oct. 2006: 10. Print.



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This article has 25 comments. Post your own!

palmsleaf said...
Mar. 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm:
i'm not sure, yet, but i would like to research animal behavior in the future
 
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rlin1129 said...
Mar. 3, 2011 at 10:29 am:
when will we get to see more of your writings on human and animal behaviors?
 
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rlin1129@aol.com said...
Mar. 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm:
what awful and cruel creatures we are to the rest of the mammals on this earth that we share. As the most advance creatures, how little we understand or care about those around us.
 
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palmsleaf said...
Feb. 28, 2011 at 4:59 pm:

thank you! :)

they're actually my favorite animals, too

 
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ELM522 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm:
This is a phenomenal article!  In English, I actually read an article about elephants that painted.  Humans painters said that the elephants all painted with emotion.  I really enjoyed your in-depth descriptions and wide variety of vocabulary!
 
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AaronLawrence said...
Nov. 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm:
 extremly good zoological repot.  I remeber in biology in sixth or seventh grade, my teacher told us a story how this one isolated group of elephants were harrased for ivory or somthing (like you were saying) and then for some reason either laws or human migration or somthing, we left them alone, when people came in contact with them again it was four generations later but the descendents were still aggressive towards people, as if they were taught to avoid them by the senior elephants... (more »)
 
palmsleaf replied...
Nov. 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm :
 i learned the same thing. it was like they knew that people had harmed their ancestors
 
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PolkaDotz said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 6:45 pm:
I like how this article has details that support the main idea. I also like this artical because it teached me something like how elephants are like humans.
 
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gonzolaze said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 2:12 pm:
I really liked how you found out about the way that the elephants are treated. It is really cool that you incorporated those facts into the essay and you used them in a smart way.
 
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sunse said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 10:22 am:
I thought this artical was very informational about elephants lives
 
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Mr M said...
Oct. 13, 2010 at 10:09 am:
This was a very interesting piece about the lives of elephants. I never knew that they were like humans but now because of this I do.
 
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palmsleaf said...
Sept. 28, 2010 at 8:11 pm:
thanks everyone! hope you liked my essay :)
 
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mangoice said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 10:17 pm:
wow, this is really interesting... you did a great job with writing the article!  in one of my classes, we were actually talking about what countries should do with the ivory that they have from capturing hoards from illegal activities and whether they should have a legal market for ivory, which some people think might be better than banning ivory trade completely so people continue to rely on the black market... reading your article has pushed me further towards the side that does not want... (more »)
 
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metrooba1 said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 10:14 pm:
very interesting article about PTSD among the animals. Like soldiers in military, we have to emphasize it.
 
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sjunee321 said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm:
Cool article. Love the topic. It's really opened my eyes to the way we should view animals. humans tend to really look only to themselves, not realizing that other speicies might grieve and feel the same way as us.
 
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rlin1129@aol.com said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm:
This is a very interesting article. Elephants have long gestational periods and care for the young longer than many animals. They seem to have such deep connections with their family and community. We often think animals have no thought, but perhaps it is only because we do not understand them yet.
 
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palmsleaf said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 9:44 pm:

well the whole point of the article was to show how we're realistically close to them.

but thanks to everyone who commented! :]

 
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Lear_jet4 said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm:
Intersting view, but you tend to over romanticize them. They're just elephants. =)
 
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my name is... said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 9:35 pm:
The article before was truly a highly detailed and intricate work of art. It was concise and to the point. This elaborate and highly structured article is truly awe-inspiring. beast like us has inspired me in many ways, giving me new doors and opportunities to open and welcome. Truly truly amazing work of art..... lol :) very cool
 
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mrwife said...
Sept. 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm:

Even though we consider ourselves the most sentient beings on Earth, and even in this star system, but humans were (and arguably still are) pretty narrow-minded. 

Inter-species communication would be so cool... 

 
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