Elephant Alphabet – P is for Peace

September 4, 2011

Wild female elephant hugs an orphan

Wild female elephant hugs an orphan

Elephants are generally peaceful animals, but that does not do justice to the complexity of their individual personalities and complex social alliances. The reason why I believe elephants prefer peace is that they are herbivores and do not need to prey on other animals for food. In addition, based on the diaries of the keepers from the 3 orphan elephant stations of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, young elephants seem to be mostly fearful of other species. While the young elephants will team up to chase warthogs, especially away from their beloved mudhole, the elephants can be frightened by smaller animals such as squirrels, lizards, and sensitive to strange sounds (like mating animals). When trying to scare away other kinds of animals, the elephants might “bush-bash”, running through brush and trumpeting and flaring their ears. But generally this appears to be more of a bark than a bite because there is little benefit for an elephant to hurt or kill another animal.

However, elephants are wild animals and still to be treated with respect. Two cases when elephants can be dangerous are when females are defending their young, and with wild bulls (males). Even male baby elephants will push each other and head butt each other forcefully to test strength and dominance. Later when the bull experiences hormonal musth, a surge in testosterone and physically painful sensations, the bull can behave violently towards other elephants and animals. Musth generally occurs during the winter and has a passing cycle.

Another complex factor for the appearance of aggressive elephant behavior is the decrease of available wild lands and resources to elephants resulting from human population growth. Long-held elephant migratory routes in Africa have been interrupted by human land developments. In addition, global warming has contributed to more severe drought conditions (such as during 2009), leading to increased competition for limited food and water resources between domesticated livestock and elephants (and other wild species). This has led elephants to browse for food closer to human settlements. Living beings deserve a chance for survival and peace, but who has more of a right to land, food, and water? The actions of people as well as the actions of wild species impact the land, global environment, and each other.


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