Holding Up A Mirror: Male Elephants & Us

Elephants are being killed for their tusks and disappearing from East Africa at an alarming rate, in large part due to market pressures from the Far East. The Chinese have a long tradition of ivory carving. To add to the problem, the Chinese also think an elephant’s tusks are like teeth: they fall out and grow back (tusk means tooth in Chinese.) In his work as Creative Director at WildAID, Eric Steinhauser has developed educational advertisements for the Chinese markets designed to get across the message, “When the buying stop, the killing will too.” They have been seen by over 1 billion people making them among the most widely viewed ads in the world. Tonight we will see excepts from Eric film, Saving Africa’s Giants, filmed in Kenya last year with narration by Ed Norton and featuring Yao Ming of Houston Rockets fame. The film was recently shown on Animal Planet, and if you missed it, you’ll have a chance to see an excerpt here and the entire movie on Animal Planet later this year.

Then meet Greg, one of the many male elephants you’ll hear about in Caitlin O’Connell’s talk about her new book, Elephant Don, The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse. Greg’s a stocky guy with an outsized swagger. He’s been the intimidating yet sociable don of his posse of friends—including Abe, Keith, Mike, Kevin, Torn Trunk, and Willie. But one arid summer the tide begins to shift and the third-ranking Kevin starts to get ambitious, seeking a higher position within this social club. But this is no ordinary tale of gangland betrayal—Greg and his entourage are bull elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia, where, for the last twenty-three years, Dr. O’Connell has been a keen observer of their complicated friendships.

In Elephant Don, O’Connell, one of the world’s leading experts on elephant communication and social behavior, offers a rare inside look at the social world of African male elephants — a society at once exotic and surprisingly familiar. Surely we’ve all known a Greg or two!