Something strange started happening in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa in 1992. Dead rhinoceroses – a lot of dead rhinoceroses – were being found. By 1997 more than 40 had been killed. Wildlife authorities were completely stumped as to the cause.
Clearly, humans weren’t responsible; the rhinos had been brutally mauled to death and their ivory tusks were intact.
Neither could the deaths be attributed to predatory animals; adult rhinoceros have no real natural enemies other than humans although young rhinos can fall prey to predators such as big cats, crocodiles, wild dogs, and hyenas.
After much head scratching somebody had a thought, a thought that proved out but one that also raised some troubling questions: elephants were behind the killings. But why? Elephants and rhinos aren’t enemies and both are herbivores.
Not for the first time, the answer lay in horribly imperfect human understanding and actions.
Many years prior to the rhino killings South Africa found itself facing a serious elephant overpopulation problem. Not only was sufficient grazing land rapidly dwindling, people (or rather their farms and gardens, and even their newly constructed tasty grass huts) were being threatened, sometimes fatally.
At the time, the accepted solution was to cull the herd of breeding adults, both male and female. Grotesquely, the process included young calves often left tied to a dead parent, usually for an extended time, until a team returned to gather them up for transport to another elephant range.
An elephant never forgets…
Science is now proving what has long been known or at least intuited: the mind and the emotions of an elephant are astonishingly like a human’s and the social structure of human society is nearly identical to elephant society. [See National Geographic, Sept., 2011 – “Orphan Elephants”]
The orphaned calves grew up with few role models, male nor female. Cows normally raise their own calves within a matriarchal environment wherein the other cows provide a great deal of support and assistance. Bulls play an important part in the life of the herd though generally in a more peripheral role.
The female calves accordingly received something like a proper education though often showing clear symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), most likely from seeing their parents killed and then being tied to the corpses.
The orphaned male calves, also often suffering from PTSD, were a different matter because in the normal course of things they follow mature bulls around learning how to one day be bulls themselves. But there were no bulls.
Imagine then, if you can, an emotionally distressed adolescent male of 15 or so (elephants and humans have a similar lifespan) weighing 10,000 pounds or more, uneducated… with his testosterone kicking in for the first time. Just think about it.
Elephants, like humans, are highly social animals and for the company of like-minded society, these testosterone-laden behemoths formed groups – gangs. But this was not “West Side Story” writ large. When gangs get bored in real life they go looking for something to do, often something destructive. Like stomping rhinos to death.
Having tentatively identified the cause of the problem elephant behaviorists decided to re-introduce bulls. Six mature males were released into the reserve and after each of the six bulls had encountered each elephant in the park – and by doing so reestablishing a traditional elephant social environment – the rhino killings stopped.
A, field ecologist at the Game Reserve said it was all but certain the turnaround was a result of the older males disciplining the younger ones and teaching the youngsters some mammoth-sized manners. A disciplinarian weighing seven tons doesn’t get much lip.
An elephant may never forget but can’t be expected to remember things it was never taught.
This writer’s liberalism is firm on most, but not all, subjects. Liberalism, sometimes strident, was the norm in the home of my youth and, for me, broadened when college and the 60’s and 70’s came along. Today, as I gingerly dip my toes into the ocean of my seventh decade, I’m still (barely) considered mainstream but nearly always trying to divert the tide to the social and political left as best I can.
One topic on which my opinion has changed began with the introduction of The Pill (Yes, that Pill) to the open commercial market in 1960. Initially, and for many years after when the implications became obvious, my opinion was that it was nobody’s business how a woman chose to express her sexuality.
That opinion hasn’t changed except that I have found it necessary to insert two words: it is nobody’s business how responsible, mature people expresses their sexuality. I’ve got no problem with single parents, overwhelmingly women, who have the income and resources to raise a child. According to the USDA, that averages $212,000 from birth to age 18 for children born to parents near or below the official poverty line. The figure increases substantially as income increases.
Unfortunately, in my view, the resulting freer attitude toward sex, which included the freedom to take the Pill, necessarily included the freedom to not take the Pill, and it is everybody’s business how irresponsible and immature people expresses their sexuality because the societal and financial costs in terms of poverty, crime, and cultural dislocation are staggering’.
As a backdrop, let’s start with a critical fact: POSSLQ’s, (pronounced Poselcue), the Census Bureau abbreviation for Persons Of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, rarely remain together very long regardless of any children born to the union. Indeed, when any children are born, whether before or after, couples who marry after having lived together have a significantly higher divorce rate than couples who haven’t lived together before marriage and child bearing. So much.for “seeing if it will work”.
Below are the dreary, disturbing, numbers assembled by the USDA, the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other sources.
1.] Forty-one percent of babies were born to unmarried women in 2009. That percentage has been on the upswing since 2002 and is now estimated to exceed fifty percent. Unmarried teens accounted half of these births.
2.] By the time they turn 30, about two-thirds of American women have had their first child, usually outside of marriage.
3.] Statistically, a child in a single-parent household is far more likely to experience violence, commit suicide, continue a cycle of poverty, become drug dependent, commit a crime and / or perform below his peers in education
4.] Fifty-six percent of all jail inmates grew up in a single-parent household or with a single guardian as a child.
5.} A majority of the nation’s poor children live in single-mother households.
6.] Over the past thirty years, the rise in violent crime parallels the rise in single mother families.
7.] High-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high concentrations of single mother families. .
8.] A ten percent increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes correlates to a seventeen percent increase in juvenile crime.
9.] Child poverty costs the U.S. economy more than $500 billion annually as a result of lost productivity, negative health and education outcomes, and increased criminal justice expenditures.
10.] The per capita cost of incarceration alone is $30,600 per inmate. With a total prison population of 2 million. That works out to a $62 billion total expense, or $500 in annual taxes for the average US household.
The answer? So long as attitudes held by the civil authorities and individuals remain myopic, unchanged, selfish and vindictive, there will be no change, no improvement. We’ll just continue stomping rhinos.