Attacking Hippos, Upside Down
Rhinos & One Depressed Elephant
And you thought vegetarians were not aggressive. Tell that to a charging 6.000 pounds angry herbivore. It happens all the time.
In other news, there’s a novel way to relocate rhinos. Hint: it’s off the ground. Is that why elephants get depressed?
What’s about hippopotamuses, rhinoceros and elephants that makes us see them as kindred spirits? Their weight, size and diet? Social organization? Or just our plain ignorance?
Despite all we now know about these three species, they each preserve a certain mysterious quality and intelligence, evident in the ways they interact with each other and with us.
They still fight viciously among themselves in the wild, of course. Still, somehow gentleness is a word generally associated with, at least, elephants and hippos.
Then again, hippos can be cranky. And rhinos are kind to their young. And elephants, well, they get sad a lot. You’d too, in the same conditions.
But it’s not them who have their signals crisscrossed. It’s us, of course, and our anthropomorphic perception of them what’s screwed up about this picture.
MATRIARCHY AND IVORY HORNS
A few years back, zoologists noticed a series of deadly attacks on rhinos, despite their natural body armor and reputation for fierce behavior in the wild.
Since the sale of their horns, as with elephant tusks, had been finally banned, poachers were not initially thought to have any part on the killings.
But they, of course, did have some responsibility, as it turned out. Almost a century of widespread hunting and poaching of elephants dramatically disrupted their highly organized matriarchal social order.
Without their mothers to literally teach them manners, young bulls started roaming the African savanna, and causing mayhem, just like a bunch of unruly teenagers without parental guidance would.
There probably were other factors behind the attacks on rhinos, but no doubts about who was doing the killing. Certain dolphin species have shown similar disturbing behavior towards other, smaller dolphins.
THE WILD STRIKES BACK
One would be tempted, thus, to read too much into an episode last year, when a rhino attacked a group of tourists atop an elephant. One would be grossly misinformed, of course.
The tourists were likely being transported by an animal that has long lost its sense of itself, a probably orphan who was already tamed and raised by the rudimentary local tourist ‘industry’ as close as a pet.
Also, the ever expanding human population in Africa and Asia, where most of these animals still live, is another reason why clashes between people and wild animals are on the increase.
Add to that the competition for scarce resources, poverty, disease, climate change and other factors, and what we get is a bunch of readers utterly depressed by this post. We’re very sorry.
A GENTLE (BUT LETHAL) GIANT
Perhaps, most people wouldn’t think of hippos as dangerous as fully horned rhinos and tusk-intact elephants. We bet your own children find those four teeth in their mouth kind of cute.
You’d better tell them that those apparently innocuous biters sit on a mandible capable of crushing and cutting an alligator in two. And that hippos, unlike their cartoon versions, are very cranky towards humans.
But can you blame them? The animal responsible for more human casualties than any other in Africa, has been hunted relentlessly for almost as long as the other two big mammals mentioned.
And the natural habitat of the bigger species of two, shallow, muddy waters, have been overpopulated by the humans so much that most of their lethal encounters happen by chance, if one can put it that way.
Pollution is also another factor constraining their vital need for territory. Despite their hefty size, they’re agile both in the water and land, and can outrun any man. So, if you see one coming fast at you, well, don’t call us.
FLYING RHINOS BY CHOPPER
They are drugged, tied up by their ankles and airlifted by helicopter for the 1,000 miles, 10-minute trip. But before you get angry, it’s all for a good cause and it’s actually the best way to safely relocate rhinos.
The Black Rhino Expansion Project has been transporting the endangered species across South Africa, as their slow recovery has reached critical mass and they need more land to expand.
The method, although visually striking, is not as controversial as it seems. Better than carrying them through bumpy roads, it also eliminates the use of nets, which has caused them to choke in the past.
Rhinos of all species remain a target of illegal poaching for their horns, valued in Asian medicine for some stupid belief on their supposedly cancer-curing or aphrodisiac properties.
Just like with Bengali tiger bones, such demand commands a multimillion black market, surprisingly geared to a small, impoverished but highly devout niche community.
The project has been moving rhinos to a secret location in the Limpopo province. More than 300 of them have already been killed since the beginning of the year. Last month, the last Javan rhino in Vietnam was reportedly killed by poachers.
THE SENSITIVE BEAST
Of these three species, elephants are by far the better known, and perhaps because of that, the one with the longest history of abuse and mistreat in the hands of human beings.
Most zoos throughout the West have already closed their displays of elephants, and they are well on their way of being banned in circus or used for entertainment purposes. Which is just as well.
For the argument that children, specially, need exposure and contact with wild animals, in order to develop awareness about their fate and need for conservation, no longer holds water.
Not just because since they’ve been “integrated” in one way or another with humans, their numbers continue to shrink, but also that air travel has turn the world into a much smaller place than it used to be.
The Internet is an effective way to help the young ones to get to know about them, and there is much to be learned and understood about these graceful creatures. But perhaps the most important is to create conditions to let them be.
It really took a bunch of sad elephants, more than any other animal, to show us how captivity winds up being more harmful to them than the dangers of the natural world. Then again, even there, we’re their biggest foes.
There’s no final word on this discussion, as to whether it’s even worthwhile to invest in conservationist efforts, as our current seven billion asses are bound to multiply further and trample them for good.
But that’s a simplistic view of the issue, as they still have so much to teach us. We either find the right balance or else. Because, really, are you ready to replace rhinos, hippos and elephants with cockroaches? We didn’t think so.