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Are the Elephants Fighting Back?

AfricanElephant-051613It was just one small battle in a war that the elephants are losing, but the body of a poacher has been found at a National Park in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail reports that the man, Solomon Manjoro, was found trampled to death by an elephant – doubtless the one he was trying to kill.

Elephant murder is rampant in Africa, where the poachers saw off the tusks and sell them to the illegal ivory industry in South Asia and China.

Later, Manjoro’s alleged accomplice was found, still alive, and was arrested.

Treehugger comments:

It’s uncertain why incidents of elephants charging poachers don’t occur more regularly, but perhaps as more of the animals have lost family members to poaching, they’ve grown more aggressive to those appearing to be a similar threat.

While we don’t know what’s going on in an elephant’s mind, there are hundreds of cases of resistance by all kinds of animals in zoos, circuses, and under harassment in the wild. Many of them are documented in the book Fear of the Animal Planet (unfortunately out of print) by Jason Hribal.

Consider the case of Janet the elephant, who, as a youngster, had been captured from the forests of Southeast Asia and condemned to life in a circus. In 1992, she was performing in Palm City, Florida, when she finally turned on her captors. At the time she was carrying a group of children on her back. So it’s especially interesting to note how she conducted her attack. As Hribal recounts it:

Captive elephants have the capability of inflicting large-scale fatalities. They are big, strong, and fast. Yet, when given the opportunity to plow through a crowd of visitors or stomp a row of spectators, they almost never do. Instead, they target specific individuals.

During her rampage in 1992, [Janet] had a group of children riding on her back. She could have easily thrown them off and killed them. But she didn’t. Janet paused midway through the melee, let someone remove the children, and then continued her assault on circus employees. [Then she] picked up a fallen object off the ground and smashed it repeatedly against a wall. The object turned out to be a bullhook.

The bullhook, or ankus, is a nasty device that many zoos and circuses use to train their elephants. It looks like a crowbar but with a sharpened point on the curled end. Think of a large inverted fishhook. Trainers use the device as a weapon to strike, stab and cause pain and fear. Ringling Brothers trainers were videotaped in 2009 viciously beating their elephants with these instruments of torture.

Hribal tells many other stories, too, like:

  • The Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo who leaped a 12-foot high wall and mauled three visitors who had been tormenting her, killing one.
  • The circus elephant who trampled and gored a sadistic trainer, who had repeatedly fed her lit cigarettes.
  • The two orangutans at the San Diego Zoo who stole a crowbar and screwdriver and broke out of their enclosure.
  • The chimpanzee Santino, who carefully plans his attacks on visitors to the zoo where he’s held in Sweden.
  • And of course the many stories of orcas at Sea World sea circuses who have killed or injured their trainers in ways that indicate conscious deliberation.

So, is it possible that the elephants in Africa are beginning to understand that they are being driven to extinction?

Who knows? But with about 40,000 being slaughtered each year, according to the Elephant Advocacy League, don’t rule it out.