Thinking about elephants
How can we think in new ways about elephants?
Elephants are skilled and subjective beings
We need to think about elephants as more than a set of biologically inherited, hard-wired behaviours and a natural constant across different contexts. Species level generalisation is insufficient for grasping the complexities of elephant lives.
Elephants are cognitively and socially complex beings who inhabit rich, subjective, and emotional lifeworlds. Beings who develop through skilful adaptation to the environment as well as intergenerational learning from their herd members. Elephants express individual variation and also variation between herds.
Human-elephant and Naturalcultural Entanglement
Humans and elephants have long lived in shared landscapes, their habitats overlapping. Their relationships spans evolutionary and historical periods. Practices of capturing and training elephants have shaped not only the lives of individual elephants but also affected, both negatively and positively, wild elephant populations. Esepcially in the 21st century, the lives and deaths of both species are so interrelated, that an analysis of elephant behaviour must be situated within the context of this relationship.
There is no place that has not been affected in someway by humanity. The concept of “nature” as a domain separate to culture, outside of human influence does not make sense in the 21st century. It is quite possible that it never did. For example, scientists have discovered that ancient rainforests like the Amazon have a history in which people are deeply involved. If the idea of “Nature” does not exist, then what does this mean for our understanding of elephants, elephant habitat, and human-elephant conflict?
The natural science constitutes only one possible approach for thinking about elephants. Especially due to the deep relationship of human and elephants across time and within space, the social sciences can contribute new perspectives.
The question that occupies the elephant collaborative is how might interdisciplinary engagement work to refine, challenge and create new research questions in each discipline. How might a multi-methodological approach reveal new understandings about the human-elephant relationship?