The Elephant with No Name

News of the big bull elephant hunted in Zimbabwe last week has already made its way around the Internet. After all the bad press for Cecil the Lion, trophy hunters were happy that this “kill” had no name. Research and common sense shows that that humans are more apt to sympathize with animals that share traits with us, such as intelligence, emotion—and names.

This animal, one of the largest elephants left on earth, was not known by a name, but was certainly known by the herd.

“Old and experienced individuals are crucial,” said Vicki Fishlock, the resident scientist at Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya. “They are so much more than ‘a breeder’—by the time these animals reach this size, they have been parts of social networks for five or six decades and have accumulated social and ecological experience that younger animals learn from.”

Many hunters argue that the elephant was either past his breeding age or has passed on his genes enough times that he has made a sufficient contribution to the gene pool.

“That’s nonsense,” said Joyce Poole, a researcher who has studied elephant reproduction for decades. “That male they killed was in his prime, and not only was he incredibly important to the females, he was really important to other males as a leader in male society.”

“Prime” breeding age is considered mid-40s to around 50, and female elephants actually prefer to mate with older, bigger bulls such as this one. Caitlin E. O’Connell, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine and an elephant expert has done research that suggests that the younger male elephants can become aggressive when older bulls aren’t around, much in the way juvenile delinquency in our own cultures has been attributed to the absence of fathers.

This bull was a “tusker”—an elephant genetically predisposed to being extra big, with extra-large tusks. His tusks were some of the biggest taken by a hunter in recent decades, according to commenters on an online forum where the photo of the dead animal received praise from other hunters. The tusks weighed in at 120 pounds and 122 pounds each.

That is part of the reason hunters have been celebrating this particular kill. Getting to take home trophy tusks of this size has become increasingly difficult. Nowadays, hunters are excited for anything bigger than 75 pounds. And while there have been a few big elephants hunted in Zimbabwe this year, the average tusk size that hunters can expect is closer to 40 or 50 pounds.

Take Aim Safaris, a company owned by Carl Knight that offers elephant hunts in the Gonarezhou region where the bull was shot, was originally given credit for the hunt. Its website—now down for “scheduled maintenance”—featured a photo of the dead elephant. According to the website, Take Aim Safaris charges a $20,000 trophy fee for elephant with tusks of 90 pounds or more.

This elephant had no name, but he had friends and a family. As Joyce Poole put it, “Besides, elephants are feeling creatures, and that needs to be considered. They’re long-lived, intelligent, and social. They are self-aware animals that think about the future, think about the past, that are aware of death. This elephant had friends who cared about him, and it will make a difference to their lives that he’s gone.”

EcoSmart Designs has long been a supporter of the idea that these animals are part of our Earth family. We celebrate the elephant as well as hundreds of other animal species as pendants, key fobs, zipper pulls and clip-ons. See our IN THE WILD, ANIMAL TRACKS and SEA LIFE series that are featured on a vibrant merchandise card that contains a brief description of the animal.

Feature photo credit: Youngster with trunk family via photopin (license)
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