Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Elephant Crackup?

13 comments:

  1. Tearing elephant families apart and killing elephant mothers is a real tearjerker. It’s hard not to anthropomorphize the whole situation, but why not? We’ve looked at arguments about why it may be fruitless to think about animals anthropomorphically however, in this case, being mammalian it seems clear that they exist in their elephant worlds in a social and emotional way similar to humans. Definitively similar enough that we could easily relate and put ourselves in their place, which is devastating. Just because they are empathetic creatures however, doesn’t give way to elephant-human interaction when the elephants are in a natural and healthy lifestyle. As we can see elephant-human friendship can work but only under circumstances that are less than desirable for the elephant in the first place. Maybe one way of understanding animal-human relationships is to look at the example they give to us: when they are happy and healthy, living in their societies and interacting with each other, even in ways that are very relatable to human interaction, they leave humans alone, this doesn’t involve human interaction. They don’t often seek us out for any reason. This is what should be done in order to let non-humans live well. This is too complex now of course, because since humans have interfered so overwhelmingly a certain responsibility is implicit now. Like with the example of orphaned elephants in human care. It quickly becomes inconsequential to think about what should and shouldn’t be done, the task is to always figure out how to proceed in a redeeming or less destructive way than before.

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  2. Now that we’re studying elephants more intensely, we’re beginning to see a much stronger relation between elephant behavior and ours. The fact that we can diagnose elephants with human disorders, namely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, draws an immediate correlation between elephant and human experiences and how they affect their, and our, lives. Because of our violence towards elephants, they have developed a hatred for us, and are lashing out everywhere with aggressive behavior. Now, because of our very recent understanding of elephant society, we realize this is because they have been damaged by such experiences as being forced to witness the slaughter of their parents, elders, and relatives, and the consequences of being raised without the natural social structure that is necessary. Elephants also have an enormous memory capacity, which causes them to be like humans in a way that most other nonhumans are not. The fact that they have such good memory is the reason, I believe, that they are in fact so similar to us. They also can live to be seventy or eighty years old, which is comparable to us, and employs the same time line in terms of a lifespan. Because of these traits, they have the ability to form the complex social hierarchies that they do, and remember information that can be passed on generation to generation. This passing on of information down the line and throughout the herd is something that has certainly contributed to the rise in aggression that we see each year. These traits also enable them to carry out certain “human” activities, such as burying and mourning the dead, and participating in rituals. Elephants and humans once lived peacefully together; the obstacle to overcome will be enabling that peaceful coexistence to be once again. The idea of creating an interspecies model of coexistence I think is a great idea. If elephants considered humans to be part of their family, and vice versa, then it would be possible to facilitate a peaceful way of life for both elephants and humans.

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  3. Through linking abnormal behavior in elephants with changes in environment, it has been observed that elephants react to such traumatic stress in ways similar to humans. Bradshaw notes "aggression and attachment, both key elements in the elephant narrative, are specific examples where such cross species research is well established" (427); humans and elephants react in similar ways to traumatic incidents. By categorizing elephants with post traumatic stress disorder, a model based on human behavior, there is an acknowledgment of similarities. The stress or unhealthy development of an individual elephant effects the generations of elephants afterwards; if one elephant does not have a family that can teach it about elephant culture, than that elephant is socially defunct and unable to continue a healthy line of elephants. This has become an issue because it has led to violent and aggressive behavior. For example, elephants have copulated with rhinos and have been known to destroy farms and to have killed people. Although the aggressiveness of the elephants has been caused by people, people are attempting to give therapy to elephants, or to each an elephant how to get over its stress. However, the elephants rescued can never known about a proper family structure.

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  4. I think that these articles prove that the majority of humans are only sympathetic towards animals if they can recognize traits that are similar to their own-elephants certainly aren't the ONLY species that can feel and emotionally hurt, but because they are so beloved and...huge, it's kind of impossible not to be aware of these things. If you're living in North America, your only exposure to elephants is through 'Dumbo' or watching elephants parading around in a circus or in a miserable heap at the zoo. We see them as big, adorable, dopey entertaining animals. In reality, they are more human-like (or, on the contrary, we're very animal-like). As the articles clearly portrayed, they hurt like us, and they can heal like us. Their family dynamics and mourning patterns are nearly identical to that of humans. The trauma that a human child would undergo after witnessing his parents being murdered or being taken away from his parents is reflected in the ways that the elephants react-including the psychological traumas they exhibit later on in life. I think it is extremely important that people are aware of these similarities because most people do not take into account that animals DO have the capacity for emotion and psychological pain.

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  5. Large parallels can be drawn between the behaviors of humans and elephants, especially in response to trauma. Unfortunately many of the traumas elephants undergo are a direct result of humans and their effect on the elephants’ environments. This has affected the elephants’ ability to deal with traumas, leading towards more severe and sustained physiological effects. As has been noted in many of the readings, Elephants are very intelligent creatures with long memory and life spans that create social communities with which to support each other.
    Within our relationships to non-humans such as elephants, humans can hopefully recognize these animals’ capacity for emotion, intelligence etc. and repair as much harm and trauma that these elephants have suffered. Whether in the slaughtering of their loved ones, the decimation of their habitats, or physical abuse –we need to be able to recognize that these atrocities are taking place and having an effect on these creatures in order to repair our relationship with them and other non-human groups.

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  6. Human beings have always held a "better than thou" attitude even towards other human beings. It takes a lot of effort to prove to most people that other creatures can be just as capable. Elephants have been tested to be very susceptible to same disorders that develop within ourselves. It has been noted by psychologists that people with PTSD were said to have smaller hippocampal regions and I think it would be interesting to discover whether or not the same runs true in elephants who have been taken away from their natural habitats or families. I think it would be interesting to test the theory on elphants who would be taken from families, however, the question of ethics comes to play. Perhaps my scientifically curious mind is getting the better of myself when I also wonder how these stressors affect their dreams since dreaming is a way human beings are able to cope with stress of events.

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  7. These three articles complimented one another well, each intended for a different audience and each approaching this issue from a different perspective. I was left wondering how, or to what degree, does linking elephants' behaviors, emotions, and cultures to ourselves (humans) affect the drive to save the species. In other words, do we feel more obliged to intervene and save this singular species because we recognize their intelligence and complex emotional lives? I'm not questioning the conservation and protection of elephants, but I'm just wondering the implications of this - if we begin to value species for reasons such as intelligence and emotional complexity, what does that imply for a species that we can't so easily relate to as elephants?

    On a side note, I wished the articles had more seriously addressed the issue of post-colonialism, and to what degree these conservation efforts (namely those undertaken or funded by outsiders) could be viewed in a colonial light. This is a complex issue that I'm not sure I understand as it relates to the realm of nature conservation, but I think it's interesting to consider nonetheless.

    More optimistically, I also wonder to what degree is this just the tip of the iceberg? As we continue to expand our understanding and recognition of animal intelligence and the cultural lives of a species' societies, we will undoubtedly come across more instances of animals displaying "surprising" or "unusual" intelligence, or at the very least behavioral or social traits. Whether or not that actually begins to occur in animal research, this new understanding of elephants and elephant culture will undoubtedly change the way we look at all non-human animals, and how skeptical we usually are of similarities to ourselves.

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  8. It's no secret that humans are very dependent on their social interactions to learn about the world and in dealing with it as a whole. Seeing similar social activities (such as grieving, trauma, and family value) reflected in the elephant has a huge effect on how we respond to it as an animal. When we see behaviors that are respected in the human world, it makes it easier for us to respect the animal that shows similar aspects. Many of the attributes discussed in the articles are ones that are important to us; memory, dealings with death, and trauma. I think the one that jumped out at me most was their rituals based on death. Ever since viewing Disney's The Lion King, I knew that elephants kept graveyards. While this was dramatized as creepy in the animation, the notion that they commemorate the dead speaks to us as humans on a very deep level. Death is a really frightening aspect of life that is often avoided in the human world. So when we see animals dealing with it with the same respect and importance that we do, it is easy to place a higher form of relate ability upon the animal. Applying PTSD (which was coined as a human disorder) to elephants reflects the same type of respect that is given to these animals.

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  9. It was interesting to see the elephants compared not only to humans, but other animals of advanced intelligence, including apes and dolphins. One thing all of these animals have in common is their existence as extremely social beings. Aristotle declared a human to be "a social animal." I think these raises some very interesting issues about our ideas of rationality. Perhaps his definition should have been expanded to "rationality is a social product." These articles demonstrated the extent that intelligence is passed down through both socially acquired traits and neurologically. Considering how quickly humans evolved to their present state, would it be feasible to have several species of advanced intelligence someday in the near future? Even if it is theoretically possible, I would imagine it is not something we will allow to happen, by direct or indirect means.

    One complaint I have about the article is the assumption that the human/elephant relationship is a new phenomenon. Have humans not used elephants as vehicles for war for thousands of years? Ironically, we blame "locals" for the killings of so many elephants. Pre-colonialism, the entire continent was populated with locals--surely they were killing elephants than as well. Perhaps I simply do not realize the extent that culling and industrialization has affected these creatures...

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  10. Although quite horrific, I was glad to see and read about the nurseries and communities that we have created to help support and facilitate the healing of the elephants who have had a traumatic experience. At least for a larger response and understanding of what is going on in these regions, it is easy to compare our behavior to that of the elephants. We see how beneficial just a bit of caring and love is to a distressed animal. I find it so interesting to see the science behind our feelings and emotions, and how stress can dramatically shift whom both humans and other animals are and what is going on within our bodies. I feel as though recognizing that our cognitive strengths and complex behaviors are found within other species will help put an end to our destruction and harm to non-human animals. The more information we find out, about ourselves and the other animals with similar social structures, can help us “explain behavioral outcomes”(Bradshaw/Schore). ---Especially when they seem so similar to our trauma victims. It was fascinating to read about the elephants that mourned the human- and that “human remains […] are the only other ones that the elephants treat as they do their own.”(Siebert) Though humans seem to be the cause of the entire destruction of these cultures, at least we have begun to have this “re-creation of elephant-human relationships as partnerships.”(Bradshaw)

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  11. What was of particular interest in the article was the notion of species specific culture and the reproduction of that culture throughout the generations of that species. This would seem a practical and not necessarily illuminating idea, being that we know we perform this function and it certainly existed in the natural world prior to the emergence of homo sapiens. However, the depth and complexities of these social structures is proving to be remarkable. I mean this in relation to ways in which humans, as conscientious observers, are piecing together the stratified puzzles of intra-species social dynamics: in the case of elephants, often relating to trauma, an extreme in a being's life cycle which offers great analysis of cause and effect. What I found most interesting, and what has always baffled me, is the ability of one species to assume the roles of another species, for that species. As in, the many 'Mogli'-like examples; or, less fictitiously, of a human raising an infant and abandoned elephant, who may have very little concept of how an elephant is supposed to be an elephant, and actually foster that elephant back into an environment of 'naturalized' elephants. This is surely profound, and I particularly liked Bradshaw's word choice: "Absent the cultural, carrier groups (murdered
    elephant matriarchs and elders) who traditionally lead and teach
    these healing practices, humans must assume the role." There is implicit in this quote the acknowledgment that culture is not a human construct, that this culture is transmitted, that their is a structure for transmission, and that given we can understand the diversity of culture, we may indeed be capable of assuming inter-species cultural roles. This to me is everything. I don't fault believers of a dogma that places humans at the top of any animal nomenclature because I do believe we have somewhere in us a capacity for reason and - hopefully - both an individual and collective quest for knowledge that exceeds other animals. However, when this self-proclaimed ascendancy is mutated into domination and submission, no longer is it a morally viable option. I believe, that if our anthropomorphizing starts with the notion that there are indeed social structures within and unique to other species, we can then drop anthropomorphizing which belies what is really in an animals 'nature', we can then create an understanding of animal 'thought' that is relative to that species.

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  12. I agree with the idea that humans are much more empathetic when they can point to animals and behaviors that correspond to our own. In a previous class I mentioned that if mice that were being tested on had the voice and language to say "stop! you're hurting me!" then there would be far less, if any, testing done on animals, at least mice. I'm not sure whether or not the fact that elephants have been shown to react and develop disorders as humans do in the face of trauma means that we should be more or less able to generalize when it comes to human and animal feelings. Just because it has been proven among elephants doesn't necessarily mean it would be the case with other animals, but at the same time I can't think of a reason why elephants would be superior to any other animals, particularly when we've been shown to share such close dna with monkeys. So while I was moved by the readings and the pain that was so clearly felt by these elephants, I'm still not sure what it could or should tell us about humans and animals. Should we backtrack? Are emotions, regardless of to what degree they may be able to be expressed among animals, still universal?

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  13. “Thinking with Animals,” offers a positive, practical viewpoint of anthropomorphism through Douglas-Hamilton’s research on elephant societies. I really liked the quote cited by the daughter from “Approaches to Animal Communication.” “They decide which bits of animal behavior to be objective about by consulting human subjective experience. Didn’t you say anthropomorphizing is a bad thing?” (177). This statement illuminates the impossibility of measuring animal capacity and behavior on a non-human scale. Additionally, the divergent interests of scientists and cultural groups in Amboseli also attest to the human subjectivity ingrained in animal-human relationships in Thompson’s article (Thompson, Mitman, 175). Douglas-Hamilton claims, “not to give human interpretations to animal behavior, it was impossible not to anthropomorphize” (185). Some people have the inclination to believe that if we perceive animals through a human lens we are automatically degrading or negating their rightful existence. Based on the historical human-animal interactions, I can see why anthropomorphizing is so negatively looked upon. However, there are several similarities between human and animal development, specifically reproduction, maternal instinct, and the necessary means to survive. I think through this approach, looking at animals through a human perspective maybe advantageous. I also believe a certain level of human familiarity with animal emotions or an action ultimately creates more empathy. What is particularly interesting about elephants is their collective memory, or acquirement of wisdom (Mitman, 187). I’m not sure if this evidence proves elephants should be judged as individuals, but it points to the possibility that different species have varying levels of consciousness and awareness. After reading this article, I think certain animals are more than capable of becoming aware of changes in their environment…. The question then becomes, do they have the capacity to apply that knowledge?

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