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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Psychologist Says Elephants Suffer Post-Traumatic Stress

African elephant in Masai Mara National Park. Kenya. Africa (Kike Calvo via AP Images)

African elephant in Masai Mara National Park. Kenya. Africa (Kike Calvo via AP Images)

Since mid-January, poachers have killed as many as 200 of the free-roaming elephants in Bouba Ndjida National Park in northern Cameroon. Although sales are banned in most countries, a growing demand for elephants’ ivory tusks is behind the slaughter.

The poachers are believed to be invading from Sudan, and have taken to throwing hand grenades into herds of elephants. On March 1, the Cameroonian government sent over 100 armed soldiers into the park to protect the remaining elephants, but the poaching has continued.

How is this affecting the remaining elephant population?

“Essentially, you’re seeing a culture under siege.”
– Gay Bradshaw, trans-species psychologist

“Essentially, you’re seeing a culture under siege,” Gay Bradshaw said to Here & Now’s Robin Young. “You have the trauma, the shock, as well as the breakup of the society, which has profound psychological effects.”

Bradshaw, a trans-species psychologist who researches the effects of violence on elephants and other animals, says what happens in elephant culture after a genocide is not unlike what happens in human societies.

“A death of an individual has an impact, on the family, within the community,” Bradshaw said. “But when that keeps happening over and over and over and over, in increasing numbers, you start to get the entire fabric of the community, of the population, of the net, falling apart. You have a sustained psychological trauma, and then you do not have any of the traditional healing structures of the elephant family and culture.”

Bradshaw says elephants are very close-knit, emotional, and have strong family ties. And when elder elephants are killed, the babies don’t get the kind of care and mentoring they need and traditionally receive.

She says the fundamental unit within elephant culture is the natal family, which is led by a matriarch — typically the older female. There is a set of mothers and aunts that take care of the young. The females usually stay in the family for their lifetime, whereas the males go off to an all-male group or an all-male area when they are between the ages of 9 and 11. There, the young males enter a second stage of socialization where they get mentored by the older males until their 30s.

“It’s a very connected society,” she said. “And all of those ties have been broken, with what has been happening over the past centuries and then acutely, over this past decade.”

Although Bradshaw recognizes that there are critics who accuse her of anthropomorphism — the ascribing of human characteristics to another species — she says many characteristics are no longer exclusively human.

“When you look at brains, if you want to look at models of science, elephants and humans really share the same components of structures and the processes that govern emotion, cognition, consciousness,” she said. “All these attributes that we once used to say are uniquely human are really found in other animals – not just elephants.”

Bradshaw believes we can get valuable insight from applying what we know about ourselves to animals.

“Trauma does not just go away,” she says. “It passes through the generations. It passes through socially, culturally as well as neurobiologically. So we have lessons, unfortunately, from our own human history, of different genocides and war. And we actually see, very sadly, the scars that violence leaves on the bodies and brains of people, and now we understand with other animals.”

Guest:


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  • Laura

    I would like to go kill all elephant poachers. Will someone fund me to start a militia, and sufficiently grease the palms of African and Indian leaders to turn a blind eye? Please?

  • Dharam Singh

    Very, Very Sad! Ivory sale needs to be BANNED, OUTRIGHT! No legal sale of Ivory ever again! That will eliminate the chance that illegally obtained ivory can ever be marketed as legal.

  • Alexander

    I don’t think elephants should be killed or hassled.  What is happening to them is criminal.With all due repect to the Oregon academic, elephants do not have an incredible civilization. Civilization refers to humans, specifically to living in cities and states. To use this word to describe elephant society and organization is nonsense and anthropomorphizing another creature. Her abuse of the word is typical of American English which is becoming increasingly degraded, inacurrate and silly. I’m sorry so many of my fellow-countrymen can’t use words properly.

    • Dharam Singh

       This is when I grow most weary being a Liberal. Lets get our collective
      heads TOGETHER and lets do it SOON for the sake of the rest of the earth
      and other people. I know we can. We are more connected than you can
      imagine. Have a fit, if you have a personal need to do so, but then
      let’s DO something.
      Gonna listen to the story again (as i got a phone call) and see if there were any clear directives for concerned folks.

      First step, it seems, is to BAN ALL IVORY, WORLDWIDE!

  • J Frog

    Elephant Civilizations?  Humans weren’t called a “civilization” until around 10,000 bc.  Before that we were “hunter gatherers”.  Even our ancestors, Neanderthals, etc., did not create “civilizations”.  Words do mean something.

    On the bright side….If the David Axelrod can re-take ownership of the word “Obamacare”….Elephants can surely re-take ownership of the word “herd”.

    • Sonja

      What is your point? considering the topic of conversation.

      • J Frog

        My point is: 99.9% of people want to defend elephants and ban their slaughter. No need to slaughter the language to prove your point.

        • Dharam Singh

          This is when I grow most weary being a Liberal. Lets get our collective heads TOGETHER and lets do it SOON for the sake of the rest of the earth and other people. I know we can. We are more connected than you can imagine. Have a fit, if you have a personal need to do so, but then let’s DO something.
          Gonna listen to the story again (as i got a phone call) and see if there were any clear directives for concerned folks.

    • Mademoiselle B.

      If you don’t like the word civilization (neither do I because I don’t think its accurate), a more accurate word to use instead would be society. Herd is a different thing altogether…smaller family groups, while society encompasses many, many herds made up of females, juveniles and babies as well as adult and sub adult bulls, either solitary or bachelor herds. Elephant society, that’s exactly what it is. Civilization isn’t really accurate.

  • Penelope Wells

    Dr. Gay Bradshaw, Director of The Kerulos Center, is a brilliant spokesperson for elephants under siege. Thank you, Robin, for devoting air time on Here & Now to the tragic situation of elephants in the wild. We need ongoing media coverage finding solutions across the board because a world without elephants is too hard to contemplate. 
    I see myself in all species and I see all species in me.  Thich Nhat Hanh

    • Elke Riesterer

      Well said Penelope!  Media coverage has to get much bigger worldwide and the poacher syndicates need to be heavily punished by unified laws all over Africa.

  • Real solutions

    This si really an old story, although the location is new.  The effects of poaching on elephants has been known for some time.  Killing poachers is the obvious visceral response, but there are more  wherever they come from.  The issue is to stop selling weapons to African countries and trying to educate the population and eliminate poverty.  Local people are the answer to stopping things like this.

    • Dharam Singh

       BAN ALL IVORY SALE, PERIOD. Not just the legal market.

  • http://twitter.com/ketdeneuve KET DENEUVE

    I can’t understand how can someone do that.   Someone without soul, without sense, without love  and too much  hatred. Poor people, that hate themselves and hate the world and never  think about God!

  • PAT SUMMERS

    yHE

  • Pat Summers

    The elephant segment was excellent, timely. However, Robin Young seemed oddly discomfited, judging by her cheery voice and laughing tone.  Her demeanor didn’t match the subject matter, I felt, and for her that’s uncommon.  Thank you for the horrifying info on the status of elephants, however. Maybe next: what to do about the ivory trade?

  • Barleym

    Such disgraceful treatment of these beautiful animals by sadistic humans.

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