Monday, April 30, 2007


The psychologist takes out their notepad. Writing furiously, they take down the following information: Adolescent male; victim of trauma at a young age; Behavioral problems; Loner; Does not function well with peers. Finally the psychologist takes down the reason for the visit: Violent; Attacked numerous individuals; killed many innocent victims.

While many people might be thinking Columbine or Virginia Tech the actual study here involves adolescent male elephants. Elephants have similar life spans to humans. Their adolescent period ends at a similar time to humans (around age 17). What is interesting is that scientists are beginning to believe that elephants can also suffer from Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Since the early 1990's some young male elephants in South Africa have been exhibiting many bizarre behaviors. They have been raping and killing rhinos, they have been attacking people and other elephants. What scientists are beginning to believe is that this is caused by trauma in elephant communities.

Elephants, like humans, are profoundly social creatures. When a close family member dies, elephants have elaborate mourning and burial rituals. The pressure on elephant families has caused many young elephants to be either orphans or not properly socialized. The theory of PTSD in elephants is further reinforced by techniques that have helped stem these problem behaviors. One of the most effective techniques is the introduction of older male elephants into the social structure. These older more mature males curb the violence of the disaffected adolescents.

While humans are unique in many of their characteristics, there is more and more research that shows that many animals share many of the same characteristics as humans. Elephants know hurt and loss. Surprisingly, elephants also can be healed. There are several non-profit groups in Africa that specialize in healing traumatized elephants. They have a remarkable success rate in healing these animals and reintroducing them into herds.

The paradox is that it was human behavior that created this problem. Indiscriminate killing of adult elephants for their ivory is believed to be one of the primary causes of PTSD in adolescent elephants.

So, are we really that different from the animals?



Anonymous Rinda Elliott said...

We are all a part of this wonderful world of nature.

I enjoyed this. :)

9:20 AM CDT  
Blogger X. Dell said...

I agree with Rinda. We are animals, and are thus a part of nature.

It doesn't surprise me that elephants could suffer from psychological ailments similar to humans. I'm wondering, though, what's causing this problem. Is this a new thing? Or is this just how it is with elephants?

12:30 AM CDT  

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