DEGTH?’s Harriet caught up with DJ Schubert, Wildlife Biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute to find out more about their important work. During the interview a fascinating story came to light…
Burkina Faso, 1984-1986, whilst serving as a US Peace Corps Volunteer.
“I did have the fortune of witnessing an elephant funeral. It was a Saturday, I remember that, and I’d gone out for a hike not knowing what I would find and off in the distance I happened to see the flap of an elephant’s ear, so I worked my way over there, climbed up onto a pile of rocks and immediately I knew something was different because there were probably 100-150 elephants together in the clearing. For Burkina Faso and West Africa that was very unusual, we never saw big groups of elephants like that. There was one group of about six or seven elephants closest to this rock pile and I quickly noticed that there was a baby elephant right in the middle of this group and a large female, which I assumed was the mother, standing over this baby. She was standing over the baby and she was rocking back and forth, she would take her foot or use her trunk to try to stand the baby up, but the baby would fall down immediately and let out this wail, and the other elephants were stroking the mother’s back. Some of them came and they intertwined trunks with her and would put the end of the trunk into her mouth, sort of like a kiss in some ways, and I was very intrigued by this because I’d never seen anything like this before.
I was there for an hour and a half and then the elephants had figured out I was there, I think maybe the wind had shifted and they could smell me but I didn’t want to stress them, so I left and I came back a few hours later and the same thing – there was still the stroking going on there was still the intertwining of the trunks. Sadly it was now apparent the baby had died because the elephants had covered the baby with sticks and twigs and dirt and the mother was standing over the baby and rocking back and forth, so at this point I’m going “oh my gosh”, this is an elephant funeral. There’s no other way to describe it. The mother stayed all night and into the next day, standing over the baby and rocking and stroking. The next day some of the workers went out and they were able to recover the baby elephant’s body and they determined that she had died as a result of an infection in her umbilical cord. It was undoubtedly the most amazing thing I saw in regards to elephants in my two years in West Africa, and again it demonstrated to me how similar elephants are to humans. Everyone’s heard the stories about elephants mourning and finding old bones of other elephants and carrying them around for days, visiting places where their relatives have died, but I was able to see it up close and personal, and was able to see the compassion that the elephants had for each other. It was quite a unique experience and made it clear to me that these are just absolutely special and unique animals.”
For us, this story encapsulates the emotional capabilities of the elephant in a way rarely seen or told. DO Elephants Go To Heaven? explores the consciousness and plight of the elephant from a unique perspective, calling on the experiences of safari guides and animal intuitives, to compel people to act to save elephants!