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Notes on Revelation

An Elephant Tale

Sat, 24 Jul 1999 13:12:23

In Africa lie the largest savannahs in the world, home to an abundance of wildlife including the magnificent African elephant, the largest living land mammal. Elephants are gregarious and social creatures. Their legendary intelligence and complex social structure are curiously similar to that of humans. Both invest years in the development of their young because much of their behavior is learned. Without adults, the young raise themselves.

Kruger Park Official:
"We are experiencing problems in some of the natural reserves where these calves have grown up without what we can call 'parental guidance.'"

Recent efforts to limit elephant overcrowding through the practice of culling have disrupted the social structures these animals depend on.

[Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: cull: to select from a group: choose; something rejected esp. as being inferior or worthless]

Some elephants orphaned by culling were relocated to the Pilansburg (sp?) Game Reserve in South Africa but the well-intentioned efforts proved to have disastrous results.

The Reserve is the site of the largest game translocation in the world. In the past 20 years, 6,000 animals have been moved here from parks across Africa. Among them are elephants from South Africa's world-famous Kruger National Park.

For two decades, Kruger's elephant population was managed by culling [killing] older animals and relocating the younger ones. The largest group of 35 was translocated to Pilansburg, but the practice totally unhinged the strict social structure of the herd--the structure in which young elephants were taught social behavior by their elders. As a result, the isolated youngsters devised their own social rules, developing much like unruly teen-agers, particularly during the normal mating period called "must."

Kruger Park Official:
"Problems that are seen are abnormal behavior from young elephant bulls that are coming into must for the first time, staying in must for a prolonged period and that causes more aggression towards people even and also towards other animals."

Under normal conditions, unprovoked elephant attacks are unusual, but rangers have seen a high incidence of aggression among the unsupervised youngsters with rhinos a frequent target.

A line of skulls at Pilansburg bears testament to this strange new dynamic. Young bulls in this park alone have killed 23 rhinos. The fatal rivalry occurs only when young bulls have grown up without the guidance of older animals.

Kruger Park Official:
"In Kruger National Park we have over 4,000 wild rhino and we have over 9,000 elephants and up to now we haven't seen any death of a wild rhino being caused by an elephant. I believe in normal, natural situations you won't have anything like that."

One belligerent encounter with a hippopotamus left a cow with a huge, gaping wound. A team of park rangers and vets tranquilized the elephant so her injury could be treated.

Elephants and hippos are not natural enemies, but this was not a natural situation. The young cow was part of a circus before being moved to the Pilansburg Game Reserve. Her attacker grew up in a zoo rather than on a riverbank. The elephant's former life in show business was of no help in dealing with an aggressive hippo.

Kruger Park Official:
"We have two tamed animals and the one not giving way to the other one and there you can expect aggressive behavior. Again, in the wild, you don't see anything like that and under natural conditions an elephant and a hippo will never be able to clash."

The lessons this elephant might have learned from an adult have come much later in life and with far graver consequences.

In response to public pressure, South Africa's National Parks Board has launched the Elephant Relocation Project to raise funds to buy land, extend existing parks and relocate entire families. It is also importing mature males and females into Pilansburg Reserve. These older generations will reassume their positions of teachers and role-models as nature intended.

Edited excerpt from:
Into the Unknown
Supernatural Beings
Discovery Channel

Independent Online
April 8, 2003

A conservation team were left baffled when 11 elephants arrived at their camp in Empangeni, Zululand to rescue a herd of antelope who were being held in a boma.

Conservationist Lawrence Anthony said on Tuesday that a private game capture company had been working on the Thula Thula Exclusive Private Game Reserve capturing antelope that were to be relocated for a breeding programme.

Shortly before relocation the antelope were being housed in a boma enclosure.

The team were settling in for the night when a herd of 11 elephants approached the boma, he said.

"The herd circled the enclosure while the capture team watched warily, thinking the herd were after lucerne being used to feed the antelope," Lawrence said.

"This went on for quite a while until the herd seemed to back off from the boma perimeter fence."

The herd's matriarch, named Nana, approached the enclosure gates and began tampering with the metal latches holding the gates closed.

She carefully undid all the latches with her trunk, swung the gate open and stood back with her herd.

"At this stage the onlookers realised this was not a mission for free food, but actually a rescue," said Lawrence.

The herd watched the antelope leave the boma and dart off before they walked off into the night.

Thula Thula resident Ecologist Brendon Whittington-Jones said: "Elephant are naturally inquisitive, but this behaviour is certainly most unusual and cannot be explained in scientific terms".



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