Over the course of evolution, the elephant as we know it today has evolved into a strong forced bulldozer that has the power to modify the landscape it resides in.
For elephants their effect on the landscape is often considered destruction, but is it?The answer to this question partially depends on your preconceived views of "nature".
Meanwhile, Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, originally an insect biologist, got involved when the Namibian government hired her to attack the perennial problem of keeping elephants from raiding crops. Fences, ditches, sirens, and border rows of chili peppers had all failed to protect local farmers’ livelihoods or were impracticable to maintain. O’Connell-Rodwell’s solution was to isolate a particular elephant alarm call out of a recording of layered vocalizations and rig it up to play back when they came too close. The reaction was astonishing: with none of the customary deliberation or signaling from a leader, they instantly flapped out their ears and whooshed away.
Elephant feet are padded with a kind of fat, similar to that found in aquatic mammals, that is ideal for acoustic transmission. (In fact, it was once used for candle oil, just like whale blubber.) Seismic waves traveling through the ground are picked up by the padding and transmitted up the foot and leg bones to the head, where smaller pockets of the same fat connect to the auditory system.
But when you ask what these things mean , as translated into capabilities and actions, you find yourself back in the mushy territory of observing quasi-mythical or very-human-seeming behavior and trying to analyze its significance from the outside. And in the category of things you might be prone to romanticize, at the very top there is a faculty that also tops the list of features supposed to distinguish man from animal — and that could, if properly deciphered, unlock the rest of elephant experience for us in a way nothing else will. “The Romans fancied that the elephants had reason, and understood the language of men, though they could not answer them,” the nineteenth-century historian John Ranking . The Romans were not alone. What elephants may be lacking most of all is not language but the Rosetta Stone to prove they have it and clue us in to what on God’s green earth they’re talking about all the time.
Commercial trafficking in Asian elephant parts was outlawed by ratification of the (CITES) in 1975. The 1980s saw the population of African elephants drop by more than half, from 1.3 million to 600,000, which though initially attributed to habitat loss turned out to be the result of the skyrocketing ivory trade. Leading up to the 1990 CITES conference, rumors abounded that the African elephant was going to be placed on the protected list, as indeed it was, making all international trade in new ivory illegal. In the interim, however, poaching increased even more and countries with ivory were encouraged to sell it off while they still could. Kenya chose instead to make a statement, hauling out its entire stockpile of tusks — about 12 to 13 tons, worth $3 million — and torching it in a media-baiting bonfire.
And, strictly speaking, it is not civilization but its breakdown that is responsible for these artifacts, since killing elephants for ivory has been illegal for decades.
A modern variation on the theme is illustrated in a on the religious icons and other carvings being produced in an increasingly wealthy Asia, now the world’s major ivory market. Spectacular photos of these pieces sit in contrast to gruesome ones of slaughtered elephants and sordid heaps of dirty tusks — but also to some of live elephants, unperturbed and minding their own business, dirty tusks still on them, just as nature intended. Few other accounts show all these things together, and the combination is startling: here is raw nature, here is the exquisite potential in it that only civilization — human artists — can fulfill, and here is the bloody price of that fulfillment.
ow picture scaling this up — to a hundred elephants, a hundred thousand, a million. That is the upshot of the poaching explosion of recent history. And while safari hunting at least represents, however perversely, an appreciation for the total majesty of the animal, this massacre implies a different valuation of elephants altogether, one where their whole worth is in the ivory they grow.
Within hours, hundreds of people have materialized to mourn the passing of a , so upset that the hunting party, reluctant as they were, even fear for their own safety. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who also had to dispatch a menace once, : “It was the only time I ever shot an elephant, and when I saw the sudden collapse of this marvelous organism which tumbled down a steep bank like a deflated paper bag, I found it incomprehensible that people should do this for pleasure.”
Meanwhile, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe argued that their elephant populations were plentiful enough to hunt from and an important natural resource for their economies, which they should not be penalized for making use of just because other countries mismanaged their own. In 1999 and again in 2008, these countries were permitted to sell their stockpiles, purportedly accrued from natural deaths and confiscations from poachers.
Meanwhile, opportunities now exist at certain game reserves for those aspiring to the masculinity of Teddy Roosevelt to pay great sums of money to chase the animals around a large pen in a jeep, that is, a confined hunting zone where there is no real test of strength or match of wits and they are ultimately guaranteed a kill. These are often couched as conservation efforts — attaching a high price to elephants makes each one “valuable” from the perspective of the local community, and the money can ostensibly be spent on some worthy elephant-related cause.
Adult elephants have no predator other than man. (Babies may sometimes be preyed upon by lions and the like; to protect them, the moms and aunts circle around the small ones, facing outwards to give any interested comers the evil eye. This proves sufficiently intimidating.) They are occasionally hunted by some African tribes for meat or as a rite of passage, but not (to these ends) in great numbers.