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June 5, 2014 12:13 PM   Subscribe

"Elephants are obviously amazing, or rather, they are obvious receptacles for our amazement, because they seem to be a lot like us. They live about as long as we do. They understand it when we point at things, which our nearest living evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee, doesn’t really. They can unlock locks with their trunks. They recognize themselves in mirrors. They are socially sophisticated. They stay with the same herds for life, or the cows do, anyway. They mourn their dead. They like getting drunk. When an elephant keels over, its friends sometimes break their tusks trying to get it to stand up again. They bury their dead. They bear grudges against people who’ve hurt them, and sometimes go on revenge campaigns. They cry. So why would you want to put a bullet in one?" ... Journalist Wells Tower accompanied one of Botswana's final elephant hunts. This article contains graphic content of an elephant hunt which some may find disturbing.
posted by zarq (36 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this. Hate elephant hunting, but I love Wells Tower.
posted by nevercalm at 12:15 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


When an elephant keels over, its friends sometimes break their tusks trying to get it to stand up again.

That's an image that's going to stay with me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:20 PM on June 5 [13 favorites]


People hunt large game cause they can't hunt other people.
posted by The Whelk at 12:22 PM on June 5 [21 favorites]


You're very welcome, nevercalm. I thought he did an excellent job of juxtaposing his own horror at what he was witnessing with the hunters' obvious thrill.

But man, I found it hard to get through. Haunting. Disturbing. I'm hoping people will give it a chance.
posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Pretty much what The Whelk says. Humanizing animals is not likely to prevent them from being hunted. It probably won't prevent people from eating them, either, though it might make humans less likely to torture before eating (but probably not).
posted by MetalFingerz at 12:31 PM on June 5


It is not humanizing other life forms to recognize that they, too, have full and complete inner lives.
posted by No Robots at 12:36 PM on June 5 [25 favorites]


I laughed at the part where the hunters used environmental damage caused by the elephants as justification for hunting them. If that's the case, we humans should consider ourselves very lucky we dont have a predator above us on the food chain.
posted by Xurando at 12:37 PM on June 5 [22 favorites]


It is not humanizing other life forms to recognize that they, too, have full and complete inner lives.

Relative to what? Most people assume animals are egg-laying, milk-producing robots too stupid to consciously understand anything beyond some abstract, arbitrarily-defined "instinct".
posted by MetalFingerz at 12:45 PM on June 5


I thought he did an excellent job of juxtaposing his own horror at what he was witnessing with the hunters' obvious thrill.

I'd be perfectly happy to give the hunters the thrill of being hunted themselves.
posted by tavella at 12:54 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Relative to what? Most people assume animals are egg-laying, milk-producing robots too stupid to consciously understand anything beyond some abstract, arbitrarily-defined "instinct".

It is time that mankind recognize that everything thinks, and that science is about gaining knowledge of the consciousness of other forms of being.
posted by No Robots at 12:58 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


I have no idea what point you're trying to make, MetalFingerz. Relative to other animals...an elephant is smarter and has more culture than, say, a cat. Yes, some people don't give any agency to animals. So? That doesn't mean that some, like elephants, don't have a rich social and mental life.
posted by agregoli at 12:58 PM on June 5


Man. I am such a wimp. An elephant dying even of natural causes depresses me.
posted by notreally at 1:06 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


My initial point is that hunters, more than most people, have a fair conception of the "inner lives" of animals, and still enjoy killing them. Humanizing animals--like by noting they hold grudges or go on revenge campaigns, loaded terms, to be sure--is not likely to affect the choice of hunters to hunt.

I don't know what "smarter" or possessing "more culture" means, other than relative to human conceptions of each, but I would say that both elephants and cats (and chickens and cows and pigs and) have full inner lives and/or "rich" social and mental lives.

I don't know why people have such a need to establish hierarchies such that Animal X is okay to slaughter wholesale but Animal Y has to be protected because it performs this arbitrary action that's sort of similar to how humans behave.

It is time that mankind recognize that everything thinks, and that science is about gaining knowledge of the consciousness of other forms of being.

This is true, and exciting. As a vegan, I'm hopeful that people will consider this before needlessly killing animals, but I'm not wildly optimistic.
posted by MetalFingerz at 1:15 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


If you like elephants and you like sandwiches, you might want to eat your sandwich somewhere other than Jimmy John's.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:16 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I don't know why people have such a need to establish hierarchies

It is a mistake to establish any kind of ontic hierarchy. We need to affirm that each form is a full and complete expression of eternal and infinite beingness.
posted by No Robots at 1:20 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what evidence there is for the claim that hunters know about the intelligence and inner lives of animals more than other people do. That's a very odd claim to me.

Chickens absolutely do not have inner lives or culture like elephants. That's an absolutely bizarre claim.

You are attributing a lot to what I've said that was not expressed. I can say (with scientific authority!) that elephants have intelligence, emotions, and culture much more than a chicken. It does not follow that I believe acknowledging this means I am trying to "humanize" animals.

Humans ARE animals.
posted by agregoli at 1:20 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


Chickens absolutely do not have inner lives or culture like elephants.

Unless you're typing with your beak, I don't understand how you can claim what chickens do or don't. I suppose it is true that chickens do not have inner lives or culture that you can observe or understand, but that is not the same claim.
posted by dobbs at 1:33 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Peter Viertel: You think it's wrong to kill an elephant [but you're going to do it anyway]?
John Huston: No. I think it's a sin to kill an elephant [but I'm going to do it anyway].
posted by dobbs at 1:37 PM on June 5


In all my years of high school english classes there was only one assigned reading that almost everybody in the class liked and we had a memorable discussion on it: George Orwell Shooting an Elephant.
posted by bukvich at 1:39 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what evidence there is for the claim that hunters know about the intelligence and inner lives of animlas than other people do. That's a very odd claim to me.

It's anecdotal, of course. Most of the hunters I've met here in the American Midwest spend more time around animals than their non-hunting peers. They attribute actions to animals that suggest animals are intelligent, but still don't have any qualms about hunting them. It may be an odd claim, as non-hunters may likely claim animal intelligence too, at equal rates in a controlled, experimental environment. In my experience, non-hunters don't think about animals as much, outside of their pets.

Chickens absolutely do not have inner lives or culture like elephants. That's an absolutely bizarre claim.

I don't study animals, and will not claim any expertise about animal behavior or "intelligence". It seems to me, however, that chickens seem as likely as other animals to do things they prefer (however "preferences" are formed, consciously or not) rather than things they don't. This is tautological, sure, but why valorize qualities like intelligence or culture? I don't see why the knowledge that elephants grieve is more important than the knowledge that chickens are empathic, at least in determining that elephants are worthy of our protection and respect and chickens should be caged and slaughtered by the hundred-million.

You are attributing a lot to what I've said that was not expressed. I can say (with scientific authority!) that elephants have intelligence, emotions, and culture much more than a chicken. It does not follow that I believe acknowledging this means I am trying to "humanize" animals.

I did not attempt to attribute much to you, but was responding to your comment with a more general bent. Intelligence, emotions, and culture are defined by humans, and are thus human qualities. These are great and important things to understand scientifically. I don't think they transfer well to informing value judgments about the relative quality of animals re: our decisions to hunt and eat them. I'm not sure why the choice of the word "humanize" is a sticking point. Humans can't exist outside our human frame of reference, so everything we attribute to some non-human thing is an attempt to "humanize" it, such that we can understand it in human terms.
posted by MetalFingerz at 1:44 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


everything we attribute to some non-human thing is an attempt to "humanize" it, such that we can understand it in human terms.

To avoid anthropomorphism, we need simply maintain that everything thinks, but each in its own way. We can establish a scientific fantasy about the thought of other beings on the basis of analogy with our own way of thinking, but ultimately we need to acknowledge that we know only that they think, and not how they think. Of course, there is scientific value in deriving from observation of form and activity clues about how other beings think. But this comes after the assertion of the fundamentally alien and unknowable nature of the inner experiences of other forms.
posted by No Robots at 1:51 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


Ammo and Attitude I don't care how "nice" this couple is - killing for trophies is barbaric, and cowardly. Robyn Waldrip is not a hunter; she is someone who can afford an elite *entertainment* expedition to see what it's like to kill a large mammal, with a support crew to save her if she gets in trouble. This is bravery? This is courage? This is accomplishment? Give me a break!
posted by Vibrissae at 1:58 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


To avoid anthropomorphism, we need simply maintain that everything thinks, but each in its own way. We can establish a scientific fantasy about the thought of other beings on the basis of analogy with our own way of thinking, but ultimately we need to acknowledge that we know only that they think, and not how they think. Of course, there is scientific value in deriving from observation of form and activity clues about how other beings think. But this comes after the assertion of the fundamentally alien and unknowable nature of the inner experiences of other forms.

Thanks No Robots! I agree that "humanize" is a problematic phrase when attempting to assert the unique value of animals independent of human judgments, and thanks for eloquently stating why.
posted by MetalFingerz at 1:59 PM on June 5


The scientific goal is not to humanize the elephant, but rather to elephantize the human, so to speak.
posted by No Robots at 2:26 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I recently had an amazing encounter with a pack of zoo elephants earlier this year. These were Asian elephants, though. Even so, it was hard not to immediately see their intelligence and feel their emotions. We met a mother and two of her children. The baby was adorable. She's a year and a half, her brother is seven, I think. We were allowed amazingly close and the baby's trunk came right through the fence and thoroughly explored my entire hand, probing like an articulate finger with the boneless and curious tip. All over the front and back of my hand, down my sleeve. The mother was very cautious because two of us were new, but she also came right up to the fence, once even pushed the baby away from us. Eventually she relaxed and ate apples the handler gave her. Then she let the baby check us out. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences I've ever had and I'm really glad to have had it.

Here's a little vine clip I took of the baby playing with a ball.

And if you ever ever wondered what books elephant handlers used, here's one of their bookshelves.

And here's a graph of an Asian elephant's ovarian cycle.

Here's the baby investigating a colleague.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:07 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


One reason to hunt them is to cull the herd. In some parts of Africa they've had problems with overpopulation, leading to all kinds of ecological damage.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:09 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Maybe less ecological damage than damage to freshly cleared agricultural land.
posted by bukvich at 3:23 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


If I could teach animals to shoot back, I would pour every cent I make into arming and training them to do so.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:39 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


I really liked Wells Tower's back-and-forth moral conundrum after he witnessed the elephant's death.

What a disturbing article to read. I can't interpret elephant "hunting" in the same vein as deer hunting; there's a distinction, one that the author made, himself. How is that even hunting, with the elephants? These rich adult spoiled brats didn't have to understand anything about their quarry in the least. They didn't do the tracking themselves. No skill was involved beyond the skill of aiming a rifle. There's no fair chase. It's shooting, not hunting.

I am so tired of that ridiculous argument about "ecological damage". We hear the same argument in North America voiced on behalf of shooting apex predators like wolves, not because they damage the vegetation but because they consume a marginal number of the species like elk that trophy hunters themselves want to kill. It's clear that apex predators and other keystone species actually help the ecosystem quite a bit, i.e. by increasing biodiversity. Previously on MetaFilter. I haven't studied the specifics regarding ecosystems with elephants, but I'm willing to bet it's a similar dynamic, with the most moneyed and vocal "hunting" interests disclaiming actual science at every opportunity.

Hell, I'm surprised they didn't dig up some statistic about rare occasions where elephants have posed a danger to humans, to flaunt those events as a reason why elephants need to be shot. "Managed," sorry.

So basically I'm not down with elephant hunting.
posted by quiet earth at 3:51 PM on June 5 [7 favorites]


People hunt large game cause they can't hunt other people.

Or moreso: Because they don't have the wherewithal to hunt something that could shoot back.

The people who don't care about that, are the ones who join the military just because they want to kill people.
posted by emptythought at 3:58 PM on June 5


Yes it says something awful about us that we can only empathize after identifying commonalities, but better that than not empathizing at all.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:07 PM on June 5


I can't interpret elephant "hunting" in the same vein as deer hunting; there's a distinction, one that the author made, himself. How is that even hunting, with the elephants? These rich adult spoiled brats didn't have to understand anything about their quarry in the least. They didn't do the tracking themselves. No skill was involved beyond the skill of aiming a rifle. There's no fair chase. It's shooting, not hunting.

My girlfriend's father makes his living, in part, by providing this same service to "shooters" seeking trophy bucks. He raises the deer himself.
posted by MetalFingerz at 4:59 PM on June 5


"Consider your fantasies of grenading the deer who eat your gardenias. Multiply that by about 10,000 and you’ve probably got a good approximation of the feelings of the Botswana farmer who wakes up to find that elephants have munched a full year’s worth of crops."

That's not an exaggeration. In a single night herds of elephants can and do wipe out villages by starving them out of existence -- If I were a farmer anywhere in sub-Sahara Africa I would be shooting the voracious bastards on sight and hoping the superior intelligence of the rest would let them understand what a rotting head on a pike meant.

Or I might hook up with the Elephants Hate Chili folks. If you don't relish the choice between dead villagers and dead elephants it's worth throwing some money their way.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:11 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Most of the hunters I've met here in the American Midwest spend more time around animals than their non-hunting peers.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that they spend more time around some animals (deer, bears, birds) than others do? (Well, right up until they shoot them.) Because there's plenty of people who spend time around animals, just not those sort of animals.

On topic: I couldn't bring myself to read the article. Instead I looked at a video of a baby elephant being re-united with its mother after being rescued from a well. Hopefully no rich wanker shot them both shortly afterwards.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Lullaby to elephant
posted by homunculus at 10:16 AM on June 13


An Elephant Researcher Mourns An Elephant Lost to Poachers
posted by homunculus at 5:17 PM on June 13


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