I am trying to sell a yarn about elephants in Africa, so I wasnâ€™t cheered to
see the Times magazine put an elephant on its cover on Sunday.
The story is clever, creative journalism but badly misses the big issue in obsessing over the question of the mental health of pachyderms. Elephants need a lot of
space, for feeding and recreation, so whether they are crazy or not, they
are bound to collide with human beings. And especially the folks in Africa,
who are multiplying at a high enough rate to require more land themselves.
Thus, elephants are a burden, and they will continue to be a burden, so long
as their populations are recovering (and they are in Africa). The question
of elephant psychology, however interesting dinner chatter, is of no real
consequence. Human psychology, in this as in so many other realms of
experience, is decisive. Elephants are mere infants in the game of
psychopathology played daily by homo sapiens. We need more articles on what
While human self-destruction is endlessly interesting, elephant attacks
are more than a footnote, if only because they can be lethal in the extreme.
Consider the death of a British man last week. Patrick Smith was visiting
Kenya on his honeymoon when an elephant in the Masai Mara national park
trampled him to death in front of his new wife. Picking up the story filed
by Associated Press, the couple, married only one week:Â “had arrived in Kenya for their honeymoon and were staying at the luxury Richard’s Camp lodge in the game reserve. The camp is on the edge of a forest in the Masai Mara conservation area, about 100 miles southwest of the capital, Nairobi.”
“The couple set out for their nature walk Sunday morning and were with a
Masai guide just 330 yards outside the camp when the elephant attacked,
”We think the elephant must have been at very close proximity to the
couple and was surprised,” she said. ”They don’t normally do this kind of
thing. It is terrible. The wife saw what happened. I am told the wife is OK
but is shaken up.”
“Jake Grieves-Cook, chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, said the
elephant knocked over their guide but the wife escaped injury.”
”No one knows what startled the elephants, but the guide was doing
everything right. They were downwind and thought they were a safe distance.
Elephants have very poor eyesight, so this was not an attack,” he said.
”It was a tragic accident.”
“Tourist officials said the tented camp, in the northwestern corner of
the Masai Mara, would be closed for several days because of the accident.”
“Julie Smith and her husband’s body were flown back to Nairobi. She was
expected to leave for Britain later Monday.”
“Kenya’s elephant population is estimated at 35,000, down from a peak of
167,000 in the 1970s due to rampant poaching.”
“According to Kenya’s Wildlife Service, the last tourist killed by an
elephant in Kenya was in 2000. But there are frequent incidents between
elephants and villagers in rural areas. In August, Kenyan officials shot
dead a pair of rogue elephants who had killed four people in the north.”