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Author Topic: Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?  (Read 5564 times)

Offline Make it Lady

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« on: 15/01/2009 23:24:28 »
I watched "The secret life of elephants" on the BBC last night. An aged mother elephant died whilst crossing a muddy river. Her two bull calves waited, thinking she would recover. The rest of the herd left. The three year old kept gently nudging the mother with its foot. The older bull calf started to sniff the mother all over with his trunk. He started to realise she had died. He then started to comfort the little one by leaning his head on him and caressing him with his trunk. They both started crying out. Eventually another family of elephants answered their call. Apparently they were another group who would have known the dead mother. They came and whilst some adults looked after the two bull calves, others pushed their own young up to the front to show them the dead mother. They took it in turns smelling the body all over. They were teaching the children about death and how to recognise its smell. Eventually all the elephants had paid their respects the young elephants were steered away. The only elephant left was the older bull calf. He sniffed the body one last time, even under her ears, let out a big blow of air and then followed the other elephants away. The two orphans had been adopted and saved and the young elephants had had their first lesson about death.

I began thinking about my first dealings with death. I'd been 9 years old and my Grandma had gone from a fat jolly woman to a thin shadow. She had lung cancer. She died and my Mum took it bad. She became very depressed. I wasn't allowed to see the body and although I wanted to go I was not allowed to go to the funeral. I began to think death must be a scary thing and funerals even worse. Throughout my teens I became obsessed with my own mortality. I wonder if I'd been pushed forward to see my dead grandma, been allowed to examine her and then allowed to attend the funeral, whether I would have been cool about death.

What do you think?       


 

Offline Chemistry4me

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #1 on: 16/01/2009 02:15:37 »
I think people will definitely deal with death in their own unique ways, some might put on a tough face, others might break down. I think attending funerals is a good way to deal with it. I, myself would prefer not going anywhere, to be honest...
 

Offline Make it Lady

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #2 on: 17/01/2009 00:00:28 »
But don't you think that the elephants seem more sorted than us?
 

Offline Chemistry4me

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #3 on: 17/01/2009 00:40:22 »
You mean like teaching the children about death and how to recognise its smell? Or something else?
 

Offline Make it Lady

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #4 on: 17/01/2009 17:09:43 »
By making sure the children know that this is death and it is part of life.
 

lyner

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #5 on: 17/01/2009 17:29:20 »
Anthropomorphism is a very risky business.
 

Offline Karsten

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #6 on: 17/01/2009 20:03:45 »
Yes, we really have no idea what the elephants were thinking/feeling. All you can do is observe what they are doing. What happens inside the elephant, we don't know. The observed elephant behavior triggers a discussion between humans. That is fine of course. We can discuss our feelings about this, but that has not much to do with the ability of the elephants.

My daughter is 6. She is fine with anything that has to do with death if presented calmly and rationally. I don't think she has seen a dead person yet though. On the other hand, I can imagine that she would react with curiosity and have a lot of questions that need real answers. I hope she will not be exposed to someone who expresses weird, spiritual, irrational thoughts about death or has a complete melt-down in a situation like this.

 

Offline Make it Lady

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #7 on: 18/01/2009 22:06:35 »
Of course I don't know what the elephant is thinking but they are pretty damned smart. The experts said that they pushed the young forward towards the corpse. I don't know why but you can theorise as to why they do this and this is my theory.
In the wild you have to learn to recognise the smell of death pretty damned quick. But the elephants were around the corpse showed real grief. You couldn't mistake it for anything else.       
 

lyner

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #8 on: 18/01/2009 22:41:27 »
Quote
You couldn't mistake it for anything else.       
If it were humans, I could accept that but how do you know elephants' body language. How can you be really sure that they just didn't find it funny?

A ridiculous idea?
Why is it any more ridiculous than your interpretation?
 

Offline Chemistry4me

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #9 on: 19/01/2009 03:39:16 »
He started to realise she had died.
Is that what they said on the documentary or what you thought yourself?
 

Offline DoctorBeaver

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #10 on: 19/01/2009 10:59:27 »
As sophiecentaur said, anthropomorphising is risky. From what you described it is easy to apply a human interpretation and say that elephants understand what death means and that they were trying to get the baby to say goodbye.

I don't know a lot about elephants but I'm sceptical about trying to attribute to any wild animal motives other than survival.
 

lyner

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #11 on: 19/01/2009 12:27:11 »
TV presentations all need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Even the blessed David A, himself, has been known to get over poetic when ascribing motives to wild animal behaviour.
The biggest mistake is in claiming 'intent' behind actions.
 

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Could elephants teach us how to deal with death?
« Reply #11 on: 19/01/2009 12:27:11 »

 

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