As you’re probably aware, elephants are extremely intelligent creatures that develop deep social bonds within their herds. Researchers looking into the effects of herd culls have identified signs of PTSD among the calves who survive.
Wildlife officials in South Africa have used culling to manage elephant populations since the 1960s. The environmental benefit is clear: too many of these huge, hungry animals could quickly eat, trample and uproot the vegetation in a fenced nature reserve. To prevent such habitat destruction, managers have historically rounded up the big beasts with a helicopter and had professional hunters on the ground kill some adults. The young elephants are then shipped to other parks.
Previous studies have shown that young elephants that live through such events grew up with a version of PTSD, delaying their development and making them unusually scared or aggressive. The elephants in this study had experienced even more extreme distress, however, as one of the researchers, Joyce Poole, told National Geographic,
“These calves watched as their mothers and other family members were killed and butchered. Because the people in charge of culls didn’t understand the long-term implications, didn’t understand they were dealing with intelligent, highly social animals, they, for convenience, tied the calves to their dead mothers while the butchering took place.”
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