Saturday, March 12, 2011

Elephants Kill Man in Indian Village of Mysore

Photo courtesy: YouTube video screengrab via TreeHugger

Once again, man's encroachment on a wild animal's habitat has had disastrous results. Four hungry male elephants entered the town of Mysore looking for food; and, found harassment and stones instead. The elephants attacked their tormentors and, unfortunately, killed one townsperson. While the death is horrendous, the elephants were only doing what every other living thing on the planet is doing - trying to eat and survive. Mankind has diminished their wild range so severely that sometimes the only food available are the town's crops.

Four young male elephants went on a rampage in the Indian city of Mysore earlier this week resulting in the death of one man. The tragedy has sparked discussion on the cause of the elephants entering the city at all and human encroachment on their habitat is a significant reason.

Live Science reports that after villagers threw rocks at a herd of elephants, four were separated and went tearing through the streets of Mysore. Mike Keele, director of elephant habitats at the Oregon Zoo, watched the video and believes the four animals are young males, separated from their herd and feeling quite threatened. Elephants that feel threatened become dangerous, going on the attack; much like humans when they feel threatened or are the victim of an attack.

The incident ended in tragedy for the family of the man who was killed. However, humans are partly to blame for the overlap of wild and urban.

"Keele adds that humans can share the blame with the pachyderms: As elephants get squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces by humans, they will often wander into human places just for survival - looking for food and water. If the villagers tried to chase them from their fields, elephants easily could end up scared and desperate in the streets of a city... When the elephants rampaged in Mysore, Keele says, they were probably just lashing out and trying to get away from perceived attacks, a sort of aggressive defensive tactic," reports Live Science.

Warning -- this video is graphic, and might be hard to watch:

We are constantly learning more about how intelligent elephants are, about their incredible memory, their tight family structure, and their intricate language. In fact, just a couple days ago we learned about a study showing how very alike humans and elephants are. Considering that this species is always surprising us with their smarts, the conflict between elephants and humans may go even deeper than habitat loss. Gay Bradshaw, an elephant behavior expert, tells Live Science that with humans killing elephants, the aggression could be stemming from this violent interaction.
Bradshaw says elephants are simply reacting as people would when under siege. People are shooting, spearing, poisoning the big animals: "From a psychologist's perspective, that's trauma. If you look at elephants and people, that's the same thing we see with people under siege and genocide."

Bradshaw likens the conflict between humans and elephants to colonialism, with the people taking over the elephants' indigenous culture, and with "elephants fighting to keep their culture and their society as they are pushed into smaller places and killed outright."
It's easy to brush this theory off, saying that Bradshaw is anthropomorphizing elephants and that attacks such as what occurred in Mysore is the result of four males getting separated from the herd and lost in the scary streets of a strange city. However, if we pause for a moment and consider the amazing things we know about elephants, the idea that wild elephants view humans as a direct threat more than ever isn't such a stretch.

Human-elephant conflict is a major topic in both India and Africa, with farmers and ranchers constantly at odds with wild elephant herds that destroy crops or compete for grazing space.

Back in March, animals rights supporters were up in arms over a video showing the CEO of GoDaddy joyfully killing a "problem" elephant. The response was so strong that Namecheap, a competitor of GoDaddy, raised $20,000 for Save the Elephants in just under a week. Meanwhile, we pointed out that "problem" elephants are a human creation, and there are non-violent solutions for solving human-elephant conflicts.

Considering how common conflicts -- and deaths -- among humans and elephant is in India, the country is already quite tolerant. However, Mysore is discussing ways to minimize unwanted interactions between the species, including digging ditches around the area.

Via TreeHugger

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