This makes it all the more odd that we’ve somehow managed to coexist with a 8.25 ton creature so alien-looking that H.P. Lovecraft used it as his model for Cthulhu.
This won’t be a diatribe against guerillas in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s hard to expect child warriors- possible sick from brown brown (a gunpowder laced form of cocaine popular in Northern African war zones) and adrift with cross-currents of colonialism and neglect- to feel much empathy for endangered species. Read Ishmael Beah’s searing memoir ‘A Long Way Gone’ if you need a primer on that landscape.
It’s generally recognized that humans are drawn to wild animals that evoke the infantile. In fact, Stephen Jay Gould (the roaring crusader for all things Darwinian) published an essay on this topic titled ‘A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse’, noting the prime rodent’s steady evolution from a basal, rat-like form to a Gerber baby with big ears.
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
For the full poem, see ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’
The kernel of the story is the mismatched, unthinkable weirdness of elephant anatomy. School kids in western nations have been conditioned by Babar- we forget how odd the creature must have seemed to Western Europeans, acclimated to the Jersey Cow and the chicken.
Personally, I’m all for it… but there may be a few ranchers and gardeners in Middle America who object.
There are reasons why elephants have persisted where their ice-age brethren have been lost. Certainly, the harnessing of Asian elephants- although one step removed from domestication- has placed them in the ‘servant’ bracket in some parts of the world. This doesn’t explain Africa, however.
This type of response explains the stuffed barbaloot look-alikes that infest nurseries (although the one in the image to the right could have been pulled from a detox tank at a county lockup). But I think it’s insufficient as an explanation for elephants as persistent fellow-travelers.
I have to believe that the numb inertia of the international ivory trade- and the hollow-eyed madness of post-colonial warfare are small things in comparison.