Recently i saw a program on NGC about the conflict between elephants and humans in India and around the world. It was pretty graphic program with them showing elephants being culled and people getting crushed to death by the beasts and being thrown around like little rag dolls. It was gripping and sad to watch, i was glued to the TV till the program ended.. it ended with more questions than answers. The future looks grim...
On an average some 10 people are killed every week by elephants (this figure may be just in india, im not sure). I always thought of them as dangerous creatures but 10 every week is just too much. I can understand the part about them losing their habitat and coming into conflict with the humans in their search for food. But sometimes they seem to act out just of spite, like for instance the footage they showed of an herd of elephants taking apart a village. Apparently of their calves was killed the earlier day by the villages and they were back either searching for the calf (following its scent) or taking revenge on the villagers. With the complex emotions these creatures seem to have, both of those two theories is entirely possible.
These are amazingly complex creatures, they even seem to understand death and handle it in their own unique way. When a herd comes across a pile of elephant bones, they seem to understand that its from one of their own kind. They gently pick up the bones, caress them with their trunks and hold on to them for a while and sometimes they even arrange the bones in some particular order before moving on. Some kind of eerie ancient elephant ritual that was fascinating to watch. They have a wide range of emotions, also disturbing was the footage that showed the adult elephants being culled (in africa) and their young left to fend off for themselves. These orphans grow up without anyone to teach them the ways of the elephant and sometimes turn aggressive, atleast thats what they showed in the program.
Finally some interesting information.. in their quest to peacefully repel the raiding herds people have come up with some very novel ways to do it. The first one is the use of red hot chilli peppers (no not the band.. lol) to repel the elephants. Apparently the elephant's sense of smell is some 100 times stronger than us humans and they cant tolerate the sharp pungent smell of the chilli peppers. So people grind the chillies, mix it with grease and smear it all over the village. Another method was to communicate with them elephants, they recorded some elephant warning calls (e.g one elephant telling another that a pride of lions are on their way) and play it back to good effect. On hearing the sounds the elephant herds turn tail and scatter away or sometimes take up defensive positions protecting their young.. amazing stuff.
Has anyone heard elephants upclose ?? not just the rumbling sound they make while digesting their food but the real warning calls.. the "keep ur distance, im getting annoyed" type of calls. Its scary.. once i was driving through mudumalai at night trying spot elephants and we came across a huge heard. They had some calves with them and the females were getting agitated by us. They just stood there blocking the road and warning us to stay away. The sound they make is powerful roar and it felt as if they were coming from the side, when infact the elephants were standing in front of us. We were naturally scared, wondering what would happen if they charged us from the side. It was a stand off for some 10 mins with our car and some 4,5 cars on either side of the road. Nobody wanted to take the risk and drive close to the elephants, finally a lorry came, blasting its horn and the elephants gave way. Its the closest i've got to the wild ones so far and i'll be happy to keep it that way.
Related Links: Â - More elephant sounds Â -Â Villagers, elephants fight for right to life in India. Interesting reading.. with the Indian government recognising the rights of the tribal people over their land, i think that these sort of conflicts will only increase in the future.