Alexander, The Loss of a Big Tusker
A few months ago in Kruger Park, a bull elephant fell to his death of an apparent heart attack, as his dear friend and companion stood beside him in distress.
Alexander, known for his huge tusks, lay dead as his friend kept the vultures and hyenas away. He kept the rangers away too, as they tried to near the body to remove the tusks, a desperate action to keep poachers from taking them. The tusks are kept under lock and key, safe from harm, in a huge ivory vault.
After trying to lift his friends head with his own tusks, the distraught and frightened friend seemed to realize it was a lost cause. He knew he could not protect his friend forever, so he leaned into the body of Alexander, wrapped his trunk around one of the tusks and pulled it out, almost with ease. He carried it to the road where the tourist’s cars and rangers vehicles were stopped and laid it there. He walked back to his friends body, stood around for awhile and slowly walked off into the bush, no doubt as broken hearted as a friend can be.
Of course the rangers and tourists alike were baffled at the behavior, but noted that elephants have been known to carry the tusks around for days when they find one in a field, perhaps recognizing that it belonged to an old friend. I do find myself wondering if Alexander’s friend thought that by offering one tusk to the humans, they might take it and leave his friends body in some semblance of dignity. While the hyenas, vultures and the like would take the body, that is accepted as natural bye the elephants, the way it’s supposed to be. But watching humans, whether rangers or poachers, as they take the tusks, probably rips at the heart of those surviving elephants that stand back in the bush watching the massacre. Maybe he’s watched before as men stepped in and disrupted the natural way of life. It must have been a very sad time for Alexander’s friend, a very sad time indeed.
Elephants are proving they are not only intelligent, but that they analyze and problem solve as well. A recent study helped us understand their thoughts a little more. When you place a mirror in front of your cat or dog, or most any animal, they either don’t seem to see the reflection, or they react as if it’s another animal, becoming hostile toward the reflection. An elephant however reacts much like a human does. When an elephant that had a scar on his forehead was given the opportunity to look in a mirror, he approached the mirror and carefully studied his reflection. He then raised his trunk and touched the place on his own head, gently rubbing and examining the scar as he looked in the mirror, showing us once again that elephants do indeed feel emotion, and have a high level of intelligence. While it’s exciting to realize they are quite smart, it can be disheartening to realize that these huge tuskers, slow and gentle for the most part do indeed feel the pain of losing a loved one. Undoubtedly worse, is the pain of being separated from each other when poachers steal away the last moments of respect that an elephant has earned after years of roaming the African bush.
I do think that no matter how grisly the trauma of the tusk extraction may be for those elephants watching, the fond memories of their friends will stay in their hearts until they day they take their last breaths. Its been a while since Alexander passed away, but I'm sure if his friend could touch the tusks that were taken away, memories of his friend would flood his thoughts.