African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth and working with them on a gap year project is an unforgettable experience.
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African elephants are the largest land animals on Earth. They can live for up to 70 years and form close-knit groups that are dominated by a matriarch. They are larger than their Asian cousins and can be identified by bigger ears. These ears radiate heat to help keep the huge animals cool. In the 1970s and 1980s, the ivory trade began to devastate elephant populations in Africa as the giant mammals were killed for their tusks. After the trade in ivory was banned in 1989, depleted populations began to recover and now they are competing in some areas with humans for food and land.
African elephants in zoos have reportedly shown symptoms of depression. The first African elephant to be taken to London Zoo, in the 1860s, was called Jumbo, and he posed problems for his keepers, who tried to keep him happy and amused.
Elephants get post traumatic stress too: Calves orphaned by the killing of their parents are haunted by grief decades later; when sounds of elephants, both familiar and unfamiliar, were played to a particular herd the elephants who had no experience of mass culls heard the unfamiliar call and bunched together defensively as expected, however, the elephants who had experienced grief didn’t know what to do.
Members of one of our gap year projects are discovering, during their work, that the old adage that “Elephants never forget” is true. Particularly so when it comes to death. These impressive creatures grieve like humans, shedding tears and taking part in rituals to ‘bury’ bodies. And the damaging effects of grief from death – especially of a parent – stay with them for decades