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Andrea Orozco
Writing 39C
Dr. Lynda Haas
18 April 2016
A Historical Review on the Scientific Literature of Elephant Studies
Ever since I was a little girl I have been amazed by these massive grey creatures with
enormous ears and long noses. I remember being around the age of seven I visited a
nearby zoo and actually had the privilege to ride an elephant. It was a privilege for me,
atleast. For the elephants not so much. According to the Economists Animal Minds,
most scientists can say with confidence that, some animals process information and
express emotions in ways that are accompanied by conscious mental experience. With
that being said, I will be doing a literature review on elephant studies through mourning
and intelligence of elephants to prove that they have full consciousness and they should
not be used as entertainment in any way, shape, or form.

The Beginning of the Study of Animals

The study of animals all began with Charles Darwin. As Darwin argues, there is no
doubt that there is a great gap between the lowest man and the highest animal.
Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is,
certainly is one of degree and not of kind (Darwin 128). He adds to say that our senses
and emotions, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, and reason, may be
found in even the lowest animals. Since the start he had faith in the highly-advanced
intellectual faculties of animals in general.

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It is easy to say that animals have emotions, a common one being fear, but elephants,
for example, are one of the many animals that go through the process of mourning
when they face traumatic events. When it comes to animals, one usually thinks of fear
being one of the few emotions they possess. Elephants, surprisingly, demonstrate the
broad emotions they hold, mourning, being one of the more studied emotions. In her
2004 article, Not by Bread Alone: Symbolic Loss, Trauma, and Recovery in Elephant
Communities Isabel Bradshaw, an American psychologist and ecologist, elaborates on
how, just like humans, elephants have encountered a great amount of stress and
trauma and have found ways to respond to this through processes, rituals, and social
structures. Trauma theory has broughten great attention to psychological damage that
victims of violence experience and here we are able to see how elephants are affected
by systematic violence.

According to Do Elephants Show Empathy? by Richard Byrne, psychologist from the

University of St Andrews, et al, this source is a research article that compiles over thirtyfive years of reports describing the behavior of elephants with potential to revealing
signs of empathetic understanding. Some of these traits being babysitting calves,
protecting and comforting others, and removing foreign objects from one another. In
general the records demonstrate how elephants are capable to empathetic
understanding of others through these abilities and also discuss why elephants show
more empathy compared to other non-primates. Byrnes presents observational reports
of elephants that respond to the emotional states of others. Focusing in the Amboseli

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ecosystem in southern Kenya, the elephant population has been studied over the past
thirty-five years by members of the Amboseli Trust for ELephants (ATE). Some things
they found is the characteristic of protection, for example, when a young or injured
individual is in a potentially dangerous situation, but is unable to defend itself sufficiently,
it may receive protection from another elephant (Byrnes 209). The list of observations
goes on including similar concepts like comfort, babysitting, and removing foreign
objects from another individual.
Some zoos have become more sensitized to animal emotions. For example, several
years ago, a zoo got in contact with an animal communicator to consult with their
elephants because of strange behavior they had been having. The consultant learned
that one of their elephant companion had recently died and he believed that the body
had been removed too soon and therefore didnt give the elephants a chance to mourn
and say their goodbyes. The elephants skull was then brought back to the elephants
and they immediately gathered around it and began their ritual involving touching and
caressing (Bradshaw 149).

Not only do elephants mourn when it comes to responding to trauma, they also show
intrusive behavior. In some cases explained by Bradshaw, reintroduction of elephants
into social groups disrupts their social bonds and they are usually denied participation in
rituals which leads to a culture of extremely violent males. Translocated juvenile
elephants have been found in many occasions to release their their stress by rampaging
through reserve and killing rhinos, attacking tourist vehicles, and even going as far as
threatening older female elephants.

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Elephants are one of the most studied animals when it comes to learning about animal
intelligence. Evolutionary biologist, Bernhard Rensch, explores elephant intelligence
through various experiments conducted at a German zoo and compiles his findings in
his article, The Intelligence of Elephants. He starts off his article by stating the general
rule of the animal kingdom the bigger the brain, the greater the brain power. Elephants
are not only the largest land mammals, but they also have the largest brains weighing in
at almost 13 pounds. Through his experiments on intelligence trials, Rensch
hypothesized that brain size actually does contribute to intelligence as larger animals
develop the complicated parts of the cerebral cortex to a greater degree and also had a
greater learning ability (44).

Rensch had the privilege to travel to India and study the taming and training of working
elephants. Here the process is as soon as a new elephant is caught, he is assignment
to a mahout meaning elephant boy. Of course after being in this new environment the
elephant can at any moment freak out and is soothed by grass or the signing of
soothing melodies. To Renschs surprise, after two to three weeks of daily training, the
elephants quickly learned commands such as Go!, Stop!, Kneel down! and so forth.
Rensh then sought out to find out how large a vocabulary a trained elephant could
understand. His observations of the Indian working elephants ability to learn
vocabulary prompted him to make a laboratory examination of elephants acoustic

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In an experiment for discrimination

between sounds, Elephants were put
into cells and given positive and
negative sounds. As shown in figure 1,
when an elephant heard a positive toe,
she knocked on a box with her trunk
(top). What this did was it closed an
electrical circuit which then moved
another box containing bread towards
the elephant (middle). When given a
negative tone the elephant knew to
wrap her trunk around the horizontal
bar of her cell (bottom).

Works Cited
"Animal Minds." The Economist. The
Economist Newspaper, 26 Oct. 2015. Web. 24
Apr. 2016.
Bekoff, Marc. "Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures." BioScience. 2000.
Web. 18 Apr. 2016.
Bradshaw, Isabel Gay. "Not by Bread Alone: Symbolic Loss, Trauma, and Recovery in

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Elephant Communities." Society & Animals 12.2 (2004): 143-58. Web. 20 Apr.
Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998. Print.
Irie, Naoko, and Toshikazu Hasegawa. "Elephant Psychology: What We Know and
What We Would like to Know." Japanese Psychological Research 51.3 (2009):
177-81. Web. 19 Apr. 2016.
Rensch, B. "The Intelligence of Elephants." Sci Am Scientific American 196.2 (1957):
44-49. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.