Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity
by G.A. Bradshaw 2009
I read this book about two years ago, and I’m still recommending it to people, because it had such a strong impact on me. The book’s description on Goodreads explains that it’s about elephants, and the elephants’ peril, in the wild and in captivity (zoos/circuses). It’s about what can be done to save the elephants, as a species and as individuals. But this isn’t just mushy animal-loving environmental woe. There are fascinating scientific observations and well-told stories. I’m a fast reader and this book was beautifully written, but it took me months to read because I had to stop every few pages to absorb the incredible often sad parallels between elephants and people.
Elephants are individuals, with complex social communities. The psychology of the elephant, who can recognize herself in a mirror, mirrors the human mind; they truly do have much to teach us. Abandonment of orphans; lack of male elders to lead young males and the resulting violence; depression in captives. The way this book has stuck with me is in a description of circus/zoo elephants moved to a sanctuary, where the humans tending them never boss the elephants around. They always invite them to come in or go out, to eat, to sleep, to soak their injured feet. As I go about my daily life, working with humans with dementia, I ‘m sometimes frustrated by the impatient dignity-stealing behaviors of my fellow caregivers. I hear myself muttering “Don’t tell the elephants what to do!” And then I invite anyone who’s listening to read this book.
From Goodreads: Drawing on accounts from India to Africa and California to Tennessee, and on research in neuroscience, psychology, and animal behavior, G. A. Bradshaw explores the minds, emotions, and lives of elephants. Wars, starvation, mass culls, poaching, and habitat loss have reduced elephant numbers from more than ten million to a few hundred thousand, leaving orphans bereft of the elders who would normally mentor them. As a consequence, traumatized elephants have become aggressive against people, other animals, and even one another; their behavior is comparable to that of humans who have experienced genocide, other types of violence, and social collapse. By exploring the elephant mind and experience in the wild and in captivity, Bradshaw bears witness to the breakdown of ancient elephant cultures.
All is not lost. People are working to save elephants by rescuing orphaned infants and rehabilitating adult zoo and circus elephants, using the same principles psychologists apply in treating humans who have survived trauma. Bradshaw urges us to support these and other models of elephant recovery and to solve pressing social and environmental crises affecting all animals, human or not.
So, with this blog, it seems I’m branching out in my internet posting practices, beginning to post reviews of books I’ve read. Not sure yet how that all works, so as usual, I’m starting here, where I live. Also posted these first two paragaphs on Goodreads and Amazon reviews.