Elephant Alphabet – M is for Memory

August 28, 2011

Warning: Language in this cartoon may not be appropriate for children.

Elephants never forget

Elephants never forget

Elephants have a particularly strong memory for spatial relationships (such as geography) and emotions. At the Nairobi nursery for orphan elephants (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust), the babies can get unsettled by changes in routine such as being reassigned to a different sleeping stall or when their milk bottle is not in the expected place. Also the keepers need to keep in mind that after disciplining an elephant, the keeper must also show love to the elephant afterwards to clarify that only the behavior was being punished. Otherwise the elephant could harbor a resentment and repay the ill feeling later on.

Shortly after arrival at the Nairobi nursery, often the orphans are still haunted by nightmares of violence witnessed or emotional loss of their mother and family. The presence and integration with other orphan elephants calm the newer elephants until they heal both physically and psychologically. On the rare occasion when an orphan gets reunited with its biological relatives, it is a celebratory and moving event. More typically, an orphan will get adopted by a herd of ex-orphans who have grown to adolescence or adulthood and moved to the wild parts of Tsavo National Park, independent of the human keepers. Those graduated elephants return to the orphan transition centers for help in case of injury, to show off their babies, and to visit and meet young orphans. The former orphans remember the keepers and their kindness.


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