Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Unthinkable future for elephants

Elephants are “on the edge.” They’re in serious danger of becoming extinct. After centuries of poaching, culling, starvation and habitat loss, their numbers have dropped from more than ten million to a few hundred thousand.

The current condition of elephants was discussed March 27 on an NPR program, “Here and Now,” from WBUR, Boston. The scientist who spoke about the plight of elephants was G. A. Bradshaw, whose book, Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity (Yale University Press), was published in 2009.

To obtain elephants’ tusks for ivory jewelry and bric-a-brac, some poachers actually use hand grenades to wipe out whole families at a time. Nor does it end there. Close-knit and emotional, with strong family ties, elephants also have elaborate grieving practices for those who die.

Baby elephants lose the mentors they need when adults are killed, and all survivors are traumatized by the noise, bloodshed, death. They show distinct behavioral symptoms like those of young people exposed to war and genocide, who witness their elders and others around them being killed. Overall, the fabric of elephant society has broken down.

Speaking with the show host, Bradshaw indicated that the trauma elephants have experienced is irrevocable. It passes through the generations. Violence leaves scars on the bodies and brains of victims.

Worst of all, she said, local extinctions of elephants could lead to total extinction – which, she thinks, could happen in 20 years.

Unthinkable and unbelievable, is this future also unstoppable?


(photo from New York's Natural History Museum)

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