What happens when elephants attack and why do they attack humans at all?
Elephants of whatever species are commonly portrayed as lovable giants. Just take a trip down to the nearest zoo and check out the elephant enclosure and you’ll see an animal that appears domesticated, relatively friendly to its trainers and zookeepers, and quite peaceful.
As an added bonus, they are also intelligent and can be taught to perform tricks to the delight of viewers. However, when abused, hurt, or in any other way maltreated, these creatures can be some of the most dangerous animals you can encounter in the wild or elsewhere.
There are countless reports of elephant attacks: unexpected bouts of rage, unprovoked displays of aggression, and vindictive behavior all directed towards humans.
For instance, according to a documentary by National Geographic called “Elephant Rage,” there is evidence that when elephants attack, about 500 people are killed – every year.
So what could be the problem? Why would an otherwise peaceful creature turn to a killing machine? What can be done to ease this situation?
Let’s find out.
Why Do Elephants Attack People?
Let’s piece some information together and see if we can unravel this puzzle.
Elephants are attacking people in places like India, Sumatra, and Africa. As a matter of fact, in India alone which is home to a subspecies of the Asian Elephant, hundreds of humans have been killed by abused and / or rampaging elephants.
A number of factors are contributing to this:
- Elephants are gradually being squeezed into smaller spaces as human developments encroach on their native territory.
Take Sumatra for example, the Sumatran subspecies, is disappearing quickly as their forests are continuously chopped down at probably the fastest rate in the entire world. As you can imagine, these animals must find some alternative food so they turn to the crops planted by farmers and destroy them.
- When a herd of elephants move through a field of crops they literally devastate everything in sight.
- Due to the anger of losing their crops, the once revered elephant now becomes a hated adversary to the usually impoverished locals in the vicinity.
- The affected farmers then shoot, and poison elephants in retaliation for damaging their crops.
- Remember that these are very emotional creatures with highly developed brains. They memorize and recollect things very well. As they witness their family members being gunned down by humans, they may react with fear or aggression. Furthermore, they can pass down these feelings to their offspring thereby breeding a generation of human-haters.
Elephants don’t even attack other animals for food but they are intentionally killing humans in many instances.
When Elephants Attack: Could It Actually Be A Response To Trauma?
A Stanford biologist, Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, observed that the kind of aggression they display towards humans is quite unlike what obtains in elephant-to-elephant conflicts. This observation came after many years of studying elephants in Namibia’s Etosha National Park.
She further reported that even when elephants battle over territory, it rarely comes to extreme violence. Unlike what’s happening in India where elephants are killing farmers very frequently.
There are also countless tales of African Elephants intentionally killing people in Kenya and other parts of the continent. Though, African elephants in particular have suffered severe and ruthless attacks from poachers for their Ivory.
Now, take for instance a matriarch elephant that witnessed her partner or calf being killed. Such an elephant will react with either fear or extreme aggression in further instances of conflict with humans. And, younger elephants under her care will follow suit.
This is very much like the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that a human will suffer after a particularly distressing event.
A typical case is that of the rogue female elephant that went on rampage killing and even eating the flesh of humans after her calf was killed. Though, elephants eating human flesh is extremely rare and this was the only recorded case to date.
Elephants Attack: Any Solutions?
This problem is kind of like a vicious cycle. People need more land to farm and sustain their families. On the other hand, elephants need the same land to live and breed in peace.
At the end of the day, it’s inevitable that both groups will clash at some point. But even more troubling is the fact that if this trend continues unchecked, specific populations of elephants will eventually disappear.
They just cannot withstand the force of human predators.
So what to do?
For one thing, encourage elephant-related tourism. This has worked positively in many regions for other animal species like the giant panda, whales, and some shark species. And as the natives gradually benefit economically from the influx of tourists, chances are high that they will reverse their negative attitudes towards these animals.
Another solution is to encourage the setting up of new elephant reserves and better management of the already existing ones.
The fact remains that humans must learn to live in peace with elephants and indeed all other animals.
Ultimately, the responsibility for peace lies with us for only then can we hope to maintain the delicate balance of the larger ecosystem we all live in.