An article in the New York Times in October of 2006, An Elephant Crackup? provides a stark illustration of the need to view violence and dysfunctional behavior in its historical context to understand its true source. It also demonstrates the ever-expanding impact of violence and oppression.
The article discusses the rise of violent behavior by elephants across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia. Elephant experts are in agreement that the number and kinds of attacks by elephants is abnormal and in stark contrast to the centuries of relatively peaceful coexistence of humans and elephants.
Not only has there been a marked increase in the number of people killed and villages destroyed by elephants, but there has also been an alarming incidence of abnormal elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s young male elephants in certain national parks and game reserves in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses. In one national park, male elephants are responsible for 90 percent of male elephant deaths, while in more stable elephant communities, that number is 6 percent.
Under normal circumstances, elephants are social creatures raised in an extended network of female caregivers that include the birth mother, aunts, grandmothers, and friends. Young elephants remain with their mothers until they are about 8 years old at which point the females are socialized in the matriarchal network and the males join all-male social groups before returning as mature adults.
Elephants are part of a cohesive social group and, similar to humans, they mourn the death of members of their group. They cover the body, engage in weeklong vigils, and revisit the bones for years after.
However, just as various forms of oppression have torn the Quilt of Humanity, years of government dislocations, poaching and habitat encroachment by humans have destroyed the elephants’ social network, the very fabric of their society.
Young elephants have watched the death of their parents and elders at the hands of poachers leaving many orphans without the support and socialization system that is a normal and necessary part of elephant life.
Elephant experts have concluded that elephants from decimated herds are suffering from a species-wide trauma, a form of chronic stress. One expert stated:
The loss of elephant elders and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.
These experts have observed the elephants exhibiting behaviors typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder including hyperaggression and inattentive mothering. Further, they have determined that adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot down were responsible for the assaults on rhinos in South Africa.
Clearly, oppressive and violent systems and circumstances create violence.
Click here to read Part 2 in the Violence and its True Sources Series