Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
With the recent announcement by hunting organization Safari Club International, and finally issued publicly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that elephant trophies taken between January 2016 and December 2018 from Zimbabwe and Zambia can be imported into the U.S. with a permit, it is now as good a time as ever to talk about elephant capabilities. These incredibly intelligent and sentient creatures form fission-fusion communities under strong matriarchs who act as the storehouses of imperative ecological and emotional information related to survival. Hunting of elephants by way of poaching or for a trophy causes irreversible emotional trauma to herd members left behind, as well as alters the genetic viability of a population by targeting robust males. American psychologist and ecologist Gay Bradshaw has noted in her work Not by Bread Alone that young male elephants display more aggressive and abnormal behavior due to the killing off of elder males as they are deprived of the mentorship necessary to demonstrate appropriate sociocultural and reproductive behaviors.
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Cynthia Moss, longtime elephant researcher and head of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya, stated that: “By living to an older age, [older males show that] they have the traits for longevity and good health to pass on to their offspring. Killing these males compromises the next generation of the population.” Similar issues have been raised related to lion trophy hunting. Reacting to a slew of enflamed comments by both conservation organizations and media sources opposed to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision, President Trump and the Department of the Interior have said that there is a hold on the determination until further research can be conducted. However, this does not equate to anything permanent within our legal system to ensure protections for elephants in both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Elephants possess inherent capabilities of life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses/imagination/thought, emotions, practical reason, affiliation, relation to other species, play, and control over their environment. As Jane Goodall has said, “I’m always pushing for human responsibility. Given that chimpanzees and many other animals are sentient and sapient, then we should treat them with respect.” Friends of Animals agrees.