Elephants illustrating more than we know…what’s this world coming to?

Posted by on 04.09.08 | 3 Comments
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I was sent this YouTube video by a friend yesterday that shows an elephant painting a portrait. In the same series of YouTube videos are other elephants painting a variety of plants and some abstract art. Being a bit of a sceptic, I looked the phenomena up on Snopes.com…and this is what I found:

http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/elephantpainting.asp

Indeed, it’s a real thing. Check it out. Pretty amazing.

This image of elephants engaged in art is even more provocative when we read about wild elephants, as well as the occasional ‘domesticated’ elephant, going on the rampage in India, Africa and parts of Asia, . These highly intelligent creatures, who live as long or longer than humans, remember their dead beloved family members for decades (stroking their jawbones when they visit the grave), are highly disturbed. They are breaking into villagers’ rice beer stashes. They are committing suicide. They are raping other animals (young rhinoceros). The cause in part may be habitat encroachment. But it may also be something much deeper. These animals may be tapping into an undercurrent of rage and anxiety that is circling our globe. And their behavior, as horrifying as it is, is telling us something about our human adolescents (or is that human adolescence?) in crisis.

And from the New York Times:

An Elephant Crackup?

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Published: October 8, 2006

“We’re not going anywhere,’’ my driver, Nelson Okello, whispered to me one morning this past June, the two of us sitting in the front seat of a jeep just after dawn in Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda. We’d originally stopped to observe what appeared to be a lone bull elephant grazing in a patch of tall savanna grasses off to our left. More than one ‘‘rogue’’ had crossed our path that morning — a young male elephant that has made an overly strong power play against the dominant male of his herd and been banished, sometimes permanently. This elephant, however, soon proved to be not a rogue but part of a cast of at least 30. The ground vibrations registered just before the emergence of the herd from the surrounding trees and brush. We sat there watching the elephants cross the road before us, seeming, for all their heft, so light on their feet, soundlessly plying the wind-swept savanna grasses like land whales adrift above the floor of an ancient, waterless sea.

Andres Serrano for The New York Times

Then, from behind a thicket of acacia trees directly off our front left bumper, a huge female emerged — ‘‘the matriarch,’’ Okello said softly. There was a small calf beneath her, freely foraging and knocking about within the secure cribbing of four massive legs. Acacia leaves are an elephant’s favorite food, and as the calf set to work on some low branches, the matriarch stood guard, her vast back flank blocking the road, the rest of the herd milling about in the brush a short distance away.

After 15 minutes or so, Okello started inching the jeep forward, revving the engine, trying to make us sound as beastly as possible. The matriarch, however, was having none of it, holding her ground, the fierce white of her eyes as bright as that of her tusks. Although I pretty much knew the answer, I asked Okello if he was considering trying to drive around. ‘‘No,’’ he said, raising an index finger for emphasis. ‘‘She’ll charge. We should stay right here.’’

I’d have considered it a wise policy even at a more peaceable juncture in the course of human-elephant relations. In recent years, however, those relations have become markedly more bellicose. Just two days before I arrived, a woman was killed by an elephant in Kazinga, a fishing village nearby. Two months earlier, a man was fatally gored by a young male elephant at the northern edge of the park, near the village of Katwe. African elephants use their long tusks to forage through dense jungle brush. They’ve also been known to wield them, however, with the ceremonious flash and precision of gladiators, pinning down a victim with one knee in order to deliver the decisive thrust. Okello told me that a young Indian tourist was killed in this fashion two years ago in Murchison Falls National Park, north of where we were.

These were not isolated incidents. All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

Still, it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity — for want of a less anthropocentric term — of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ‘‘a number of reserves’’ in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities.

Read the whole disturbing and enlightenting article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/magazine/08elephant.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&sq=adolescent%20elephants%20&st=nyt&scp=1 The article compares what’s happening with the elephants to what’s happening to human adolescents.

I recently used the material in this article for a retreat on connecting to our deeper wisdom. It was difficult material to use, but important to help bring us out of denial of the state of the world that we’re in.

Einstein said that we cannot solve the problems we have created on the same level of consciousness that we made them in. What kind of engaged spirituality will it take for us take on these issues with all the resources that we have and guidance that we can ask for?

Would you like for me to write more about this topic? I’m willing–and if not eager to, at least inspired.

Beth, VTH Host

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