Serial killer elephants; psychology and the animal

An elephant I photographed in Kenya 2008

An elephant I photographed in Kenya 2008

A documentary on channel 5 highlights problems including abnormal behavioural psychology in male Bull elephants in India. The elephant, normally docile and grand appearing to slowly lumber around impressive in it’s sheer presence, I remember seeing them when I worked in Kenya. Elephants can apparently become less of a grand, gentle herbivore of the plains and more of a serial killer at the mercy of their own psychology. Researchers in an Indian reserve came across multiple corpses of male and female elephants and after finding that there was no disease present, no poaching or any other cause of death concluded that other Bull elephants had murdered them.

The behaviour of these elephants seems to have been due to a number of factors. Initially it was assumed that sexual frustration (one was observed masturbating) was driving the elephants to kill their prospective partners until a male was found dead. They continued to suspect this, however,  knowing that males can and do kill each other (although rarely) due to testosterone levels that can be up to 60 times greater in an elephant in musk (mating season). They also reviewed evidence from a historical case where elephants in musk killed their females and also attempted to rape Rhinos before killing them.

A not so happy hefalump

A not so happy hefalump

Another issue was seen to be the lack of elder Bull elephants due to poaching in the past, which are needed to teach the young males how to behave. Apparently the removal of these social role models left younger males to mature as violent and unruly with no elder to keep them in check. This assertion seemed to be accurate due the fact that other Bulls were found behaving in this way and a very skewed gender split in the elephants (usually 1 male to 6 females in this case 1 male to over 100 females).  Needless to say this is very strange behaviour and is contrary to evolutionary psychology Usually male elephants wouldn’t kills females as they would limit their options with regards to mating in future. Elimination of competitive less seems to be normal behaviour but rarely comes down to death when fighting to show who is dominant.

The killing spree seems to have been due to an interplay between altered brain chemistry, a lack of social instruction and the behavioural consequences created by this. Another example of the Scientific method being used to elucidate the nature of such things in the real world. It just goes to show that animals especially our fellow mammals are alot more similar to us than we might think. It seems that these large brained mammals have some of the same psychological problems we do. It might make you feel humble in the face of nature and identify more with our fellow animals in our short time on earth.


About glencarrigan

Glen Carrigan is a Neuropsychology Postgraduate Researcher and Senior Research Assistant in Clinical Practice at The University of Central Lancashire. Glen is a public speaker, humanist, science presenter, ex-soldier, and social and political activist with an interest in all things related to equality, science, education, and politics.

Posted on April 22, 2013, in Psychology, Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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