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Elephants: PTSD And Killing People - Yellow Magpie

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Published on November 4th, 2010 | by Yellow Magpie


Elephants: PTSD And Killing People


What animal kills more people every year than any other besides ourselves? A tiger perhaps? Man-eating lions? Snakes? Crocodiles? Maybe spiders? If you guessed any of the above you would be mistaken. The answer is surprisingly elephants.

It is estimated that up to 500 people are killed by elephants each year. But how and why is this happening?

Indian Or Asian Elephant

Severe Pressure

Severe pressure is being placed on elephant populations as more and more of their natural habitat is being cut down to make way for development and agriculture.

Slowly, the elephants’ territories are becoming smaller and smaller, causing a scarcity of resources and ultimately creating a necessity for elephants to start seeking food in areas inhabited by people. With both elephants and people competing for the same resources conflict inevitably arises.

Optimized-Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka Photo By Bernard Gagnon

Violent Conflict

Conflicts between people and elephants often turn violent and this is particularly evident with the Sumatran species found in Sumatra, Indonesia. Sumatran elephant numbers are in serious decline as the forest gets thinned out. This has led to the elephants seeking food from crops. As a result, the elephants are being poisoned and shot by locals.

In India the problem appears to be growing worse as Indian elephants constantly kill local farmers, sometimes even attacking in groups.

Given the elephants massive size and its amazing strength, these animals can do a lot of damage.

Female African Elephant Photo By Muhammad Mahdi Karim

So Why Are They Attacking?

Elephants are highly intelligent social creatures. In fact, their brains can be up to three times larger than our own. It is this brain-power that makes them so intelligent.

Elephants possess extraordinary memories, as the phrase suggests ‘an elephant never forgets’. Not only do elephants remember traumatic incidents, they can also pass on behaviours to other members of the group.

For instance, if an elephant was attacked by a person, that elephant may react in different ways upon seeing another human being. What’s more other elephants in the group may adopt these same behaviours when seeing people.

It is this social dimension that worsens conflict between elephants and people.

Ivory Elephant Trade

The Psychological Effects Of Killing Elephants

As elephants possess sophisticated brains and are highly intelligent, traumatic events such as seeing family members being killed by people can have long-term psychological effects.

It is now believed that elephants can suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) making them the only other animal besides people to do so. In many ways this shouldn’t be surprising given what we know about their memory capabilities.

The Dangers Of PTSD

Psychologists have found that PTSD in people can be triggered at any time and in exceptional cases, flashbacks of the traumatic incident can induce violent psychosis.

There is evidence to suggest that this is the case with elephants too. The unpredictable nature of PTSD makes it even more dangerous as there are records of normally placid elephants attacking people, sometimes even killing them.

Fatherless Male Adolescent Elephants

Like people, elephants sometimes need older males present to act as a guiding influence during adolescence. This becomes particular relevant when the young males go into musth, a time when they they are flooded with hormones in preparation for mating.

African Elephant Photo By Muhammad Mahdi Karim

Without a male figure to guide the young males extreme conflict with people is sometimes inevitable. This is especially the case if a young male has lost family members at the hands of humans.

During the 1970’s and 80’s large number of African Elephants were culled. This led to attacks by younger elephants on human settlements. In India, one of the worst affected countries, male elephants often attack villages killing people during the night.

Solutions To The Problem

In an ideal world the best solution to the problem would be to give elephants their own space. But in a world in which resources are scarce this often isn’t practical.

Various elephant sanctuaries could be set up which could be made financially viable by allowing tourists to visit. The prohibition of culling and killing elephants could help to ease problems and chili powder bombs, which elephants cannot stand, could be deployed instead of guns around farms to keep elephants at bay.

Highly Recommended Get This Book Through Amazon

Check out Yellow Magpie’s The Elephant: A Grass-Guzzling Digestive System PhenomenaElephants: A Remarkably Human Animal and Elephants: Why They Are So Smart for further insight into this amazing animal.

Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family by Cynthia Moss is a thrilling and eye-opening read. Full of wonderful insight and knowledge that can only be gleaned from hands-on experience, Elephant Memoirs is one of the better books on the subject.

You can obtain Elephant Memories here from Amazon.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom you can access Elephant Memories here.

For those living in Canada you can obtain Elephant Memories from here.

For Germany: Elephant Memories.

For France: Elephant Memories.

About the Author

7 Responses to Elephants: PTSD And Killing People

  1. Pingback: The Elephant: A Grass-Guzzling Digestive System Phenomena

  2. Alexandra says:

    Wow, what was amazing to me, while reading this, is HOW much it sounded like our present day American society.

    Shocking, how much alike.

    Very interesting, and thank you.

  3. Yellow Magpie says:

    Thanks for commenting Alexandra. That is a very interesting analogy. Which part sounds like America?

  4. Pingback: Elephants: Why They Are So Smart

  5. Pingback: Blue Whale: The World’s True Giant

  6. Pingback: Elephants: A Remarkably Human Animal

  7. Pingback: The Elephant: A Grass-Guzzling Digestive System Phenomena

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