Need to understand animal behaviour
Published on: Sunday, January 15, 2023
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File pic of Baby Joe grieving over dead mother. Joe now an adult killed its handler recently.
THERE is an old adage that says “an elephant never forgets.”

Have you read the book The Memory of an Elephant? Written by Eric Lasker, it tells an epic saga narrated by an aging African elephant as he makes a last, perilous journey to find the humans who rescued him as an orphan some 50 years before.

Interwoven within the narrative are the tumultuous lives of the human family who raised and then lost him – a famed hunting guide and his wife who run an animal orphanage.

This timeless heart-warming story spans east Africa, Great Britain and New York from 1962 to 2015.

The story is fiction, of course, but it’s true that elephants have a superb memory. 

This is demonstrated when it comes to their spatial environment and social behaviour. 

An elephant’s memory is key to its survival and, sometimes, the entire herd’s.

In the book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, the authors Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy present some fascinating anecdotes and illuminating insights about the animal kingdom that offer powerful proof of the existence of animal emotions.

Yes, animals do feel love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion and loneliness too.

So when I read about Joe, our now grown-up Borneo pygmy elephant that turned against its handler, goring him to death while he was treating an injured calf at the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, my heart sank for both the human and animal.

I still have the newspaper cutting with the heart-wrenching photograph of Baby Joe trying to wake his dead mother up nine years ago stuck on my wall.

The calf was the sole survivor of a poisoning that killed 14 Borneo pygmy elephants.

We may wonder how this attack could happen now. 

Perhaps the two books can give us some answers. 

None of us could even fathom the impact of the tragedy on Joe back then.

But perhaps even more important for us is to reflect on how we treat animals – from hunting, farming and consuming them to scientific experimentation. How do we treat strays, for instance?

As we advance and become more civilised, are we gentler and kinder to our fellow humans, animals and Mother Nature?


- The views expressed here are the views of the writer's and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

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