The recent documentary Blackfish vividly depicts the cause and effect of young orcas being stolen away from their mothers in the wild and their ensuing long-term psychological problems. A new study has now revealed that elephant culls as far back as the 1980s have resulted in similar ongoing, life-long psychological effects on the surviving orphan elephants and their families.
Scientists from the University of Sussex led a study involving two distinct elephant populations in Africa. One population, living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya, were not involved in any sort of cull and were raised in a “traditional” matriarchal elephant society. The other, living in Pilanesberg Park in South Africa, consists entirely of orphan elephants relocated after “managed” culls in the 1980s and 90s.
The groundbreaking study, published in the October 23, 2013 edition of Frontiers of Zoology, reveals that the relocated pack of orphans living together in Pilanesberg display the classic signs of long-term psychological effects, including basic decision making skills and symptoms that closely resemble post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It is a groundbreaking study because it is the first to demonstrate, experimentally, a direct connection between the effects of culling and specific psychosocial harms,” Dr. Lori Marino, NhRP’s Science Director said to Science Magazine. “It shows unequivocally that elephants are psychologically damaged by culling.”
The scientists first played audio recordings of familiar and unfamiliar elephants to 14 elephant families in Pilanesberg and 39 families in Amboseli. Then, in the second part of the experiment, they recreated calls from elephants of various ages and sizes. The first experiment was an effort to study the social knowledge of the elephants, and the second was an effort to understand the elephants’ reactions to various levels of social threats.
The scientists found the elephant families living in Amboseli Park responded in “typical” coordinated elephant behavior. When the scientists played the call of an older, unfamiliar female elephant, the entire family would freeze, turn toward the threat and form a wall, trunks raised to sniff the wind, ears pricked to listen for any potential threat. More....