In the mid 90’s, I read that an unusually large number of rhinos were unexpectedly and mysteriously killed in the Pilanesberg Reserve. It was later discovered that elephants were responsible, a band of roving “adolescent” male elephants…to be precise. There was a lot of conjecture, by experts at the time, as to the cause for such unprecedented behavior.
Today, my son asked me a very disconcerting question, and it reminded of those elephants so I shared the story with him.
The Pilanesberg Reserve was started as a refuge for elephants in the 1970’s, specifically for baby elephants that would have been killed as a population control method in other areas of the country. The rescued babies would become part of a herd and cared for by two Matriarch elephants. Elephant herds are generally made up of closely related female elephants and their offspring. As young male elephants come of age ( 15 yrs), they are pushed out of the herd and become part of bachelor groups which are led by older, much stronger Patriarchs or male elephants, who keep them in check through adolescence to adulthood.
Unfortunately, the Pilanesberg Reserve had no Patriarchs. There are no adult males for them to follow. Deprived of any male adult supervision or role models, combined with a surge of adolescent hormones, the young male elephants became a very dangerous group of juvenile delinquents.
Over the next few years the problem got worse. 39 white rhinos were killed by groups of elephants and multiple elephants had to be put down.
In 1998 rangers decide to take another approach. Several large, Patriarch, males were captured in other parks and brought in to the reserve. They say it was like a group of teenagers being confronted by their fathers for the first time, as one by one the patriarch males put the adolescents in their place. The killings stopped nearly overnight.
At the end I asked my son if he understood.
His answer was half statement half question.
“They don’t have dad’s ?”