Friday, August 26, 2005

You Can Do It When You Mumble Herder It*

Yesterday I said something not very well thought out about Freedom and Space having an inverse relationship. When you're elephant-sized, this creates even more problems.

Despite some troubles yesterday, Kenya is proceeding with its plan to relocate 400 elephants from Shimba Hills National Reserve (which is on the coast south of Mombasa) inland about 85 miles to Tsavo National Park. The Kenya Wildlife Service is calling it "the single largest translocation of animals ever undertaken since Noah's Ark." (Note the Engfish. That's what my high school composition teacher called it when someone used a big word that meant the same as a small word. His favorite example was "utilize" instead of "use," and I still make snap judgments about people who say utilize. It's particularly odd when they're people I've known for a little while, and then I hear them say "utilize," and I instantly think I didn't realize this person was an idiot. Not fair, I know. Anyway, "translocation" just means "move" or "transport," Mr. Patrick Omondi of the Kenya Wildlife Service.)

(I am extraordinarily digressive lately.)

As you might imagine, I'm very interested in all of this. I'm a bit leery, though, since from everything I've read in the last few months about elephants they're intensely social creatures with complex family and clan relationships. The KWS is moving them five at a time, which is a much smaller group on average than most elephant bond groups. I hope they will all find each other once they're moved and that they're not too traumatized by the move. (Elephants, particularly survivors of poacher massacres, sometimes suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Another concern of mine is that considering that elephants live long enough to pass on knowledge of migration routes and terrain to others, a little bit of elephant history may well be lost.

On the other hand, elephant management is a problem everywhere. They raid farms when they're hungry and attack villages when they're feeling crowded. (Or when they're drunk.) In Africa it's particularly complicated, because during the bad poaching years the elephant population dwindled so far that many elephants abandoned their usual migration areas, and people moved in to cultivate the land. Now that poaching is not as bad and the elephant population is rebounding, people and elephants clash every day.

Nonetheless, zoos are not the solution, at least not as they exist today, according to Joyce Poole (research director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, also in Kenya). Dr. Poole happened to be in Chicago and testified at a city hearing about the Lincoln Park Zoo elephant deaths. (All three have died--of differing causes--in the past year.) She says--well, she says a lot, and it's all in the article, and she's smarter than I am so read what she said. And she's right. Some animals do all right in zoos, and some zoos make a serious effort to make them comfortable, and I think zoos have a legitimate function. Ignorance is closely connected to apathy, and if people never got a chance to see animals from all over the world it's difficult to imagine why they would care about endangered species and that sort of thing. But concrete boxes are no good. Safari parks like Disney's Animal Kingdom are a step in the right direction (hard as it is for me to give any props to Disney). But meanwhile, the animals have it tough at home, and so do their human neighbors.

In other zoo news, the cutest baby animal in the world needs a name. And check out this happy polar bear cub and her momma. Sure, she's smiling now, but what about once she figures out she's in a zoo and can't eat the seals? (Polar bears DON'T do well in zoos.)

Also, not really animal-related, but kinda: want to see something disturbing? Rhino-style kung fu! (Via Jeremy)

*Title via Gwenda and this site.


Blogger David Moles said...

No, dude, they're going to trans-locate them! Psychically! Alfred Bester style!

2:14 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

P.S. You know about this plan to bring African megafauna to North America, right?

2:16 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Dude, we so need teleporting elephants. Get on that!

Yeah, I heard about that crazy-ass plan. I don't understand how any of them can think that will happen. There's no chance the ranchers would let them bring lions over, and the elephants would probably be even worse. They knock over fences like nothing. Electrify them and they either drop a log on them or snap them with their non-conductive tusks. Dig a ditch, and they'll fill it in to cross it. (There are stories of single elephants standing at the bottom of ditches so that others could step on their backs to cross, but no one's documented it as far as I know.) And they can swim for hours. Basically, we'd be bringing the problems of millet farmers over here.

Sad, though, that rhinos weren't mentioned in the plan. Everyone's given up on saving them.

2:28 PM  

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