Monday, September 28, 2009

Emotions and Perception in the Animal World - Part 1

People have always thought animals to be without the sense of emotions, with only "barbarism" and "brutality" in their blood. Everyone has conveniently overlooked the fact that we - Humans, have done nothing different when it comes to "brutality".
I was watching a documentary on elephants in Africa. The scientists there were getting puzzling stories and evidences about elephant attacks in certain parts of game reserves and national parks. Some elephants were found to be killing rhinos in certain areas and in other areas, some were seen killing cattle belonging to the tribes there. I will not go into the complete details of the film itself... but will give a brief outline of the outcome.
Well, upon good investigation, it was found out that the elephants killing the rhinos were all young males that were reaching maturity or that have just passed the initial phases, where as the elephants killing the cows were found out to be females, some young adults and some old. Upon thorough scrutiny of the killings, one startling conclusion was reached.
It was reported that those particular " deranged" males found in the reserve had a very shocking common history. All of them were rescued as babies and relocated into newer "elephant un-inhabited" areas of the park a very long time ago, during the civil wars. Due to the wars, people had wiped out patches of elephant population in parts of Africa. After the wars, the government decided to "distribute" the remaining populations all over.
PROBLEM - They could not transfer the adults with just man power present just after the wars. so they relocated the babies only. During this time some of the adults were killed in front of the kids, and the kids were left to fend for themselves in a completely new environment without their close knit family.
EFFECT- The elephants had no parental care and teaching, and upon losing their close knit family, they went into shock. They did grow up very well, but had signs of aggression, Post traumatic stress [PTS] etc. Besides that, upon reaching sexual maturity, the males did not know a female elephant let alone how to woo her. They tried bonding with what ever was alive. Rhinos were all around. The rhinos that refused the advances of the elephants would be killed. Not only that, the male rhinos were killed first [to reduce competition presumably].
For many years, people wondered why things like this were a common occurance. After trying quite a bit to understand, and finally understanding it, they tried an experiment.

They brought in older males from other parts of the continent and left them in the same reserve as the traumatised elephants. Within a year, the number of deaths became negligeble, and the "deranged" elephants were becoming less aggressive and more "normal". Soon all the elephants were calm and went about doing their normal jobs or walking and eating and mating with females of the same species. Though this result was significantly good in terms of "behavioural rehabs", many elephants still showed signs of aggression towards people.

The female elephants on another part of the continent were also found to have a shocking common history. They had all lost their calves to humans. The problem started off when the elephants walked int the villeges and ate everything there is. The tribes had to shoo away the elephants.There were casualties from the humans side.Many times the shooing away would go too far. The men followed the herd and speared the elephants. For the sake of revenge over losing their own young the men killed the elephant calves. The females, went into shock and PTS and began to attack anything with a human scent on it. The easiest targets were cattle that would go to the grass plains to feed along side the elephants.
This so called War would have gone on and on if the scientists had not interviened. Different methods were sought after to keep the elephants out of the village and to keep the villagers safe. On the same lines, the tribes were convinced not kill little calves again.

VERDICT - The bull elephants got back to normal in some time in the presence of older elephants, while the females took some more time. Some of them did not make it actually. They were so stressed that it took a toll on their lives.

BEHAVIOURAL OBSERVATIONS - Elephants, unlike previously thought, are very much like humans. They are at the apex of their evolutionary line. They are highly evolved beings, having complex social stuctures, immense emotional values, a unique way of communication and much more. They too undergo stress as much as we do. and show the same symptoms if left unchecked.

Only after such incidents do we find that we are not AS different from animals as we thought we were. We can be equally barbaric and brutal just as the animals can be emotional and caring. It is high time we came out of our " Ignoramus Shell " and realised that we belong as much as they belong on this planet and all of us are an intricate, intertwined strand in the web of life.