Yes, elephants do forgive. Throughout the African continent elephants are under siege, if not directly, they are teetering on the firing line. If a family member hasn’t been personally butchered chances are a bond member or clan member has. Poaching statistics and seizures tell us that periods of chaos, grieving and mourning out number periods of peace, celebration and birth. In southeast Asia countless calves and juveniles are abducted from their families in the wild and forced into servitude in the logging and tourism industry where they are “crushed” physically, psychologically and spiritually. The enduring trauma and irrevocable harm thrust on elephants’ psyches and souls has been documented and mapped by scientists and conservationists and all agree that such relentless stress and terror of this gentle, highly sensitive and emotionally complex mammal could be catastrophic to the species.
One would expect any elephant at the center of the poaching apocalypse to retaliate or at least flee and never be seen again by its persecutors, yet each day we witness African elephants willing to remain in danger zones and forgive. Following decades of forced labor, physical abuse and psychological tyranny one would expect Asian elephants rescued from labor and tourism camps to harbor resentment or at the very least renounce all human interaction, yet they forgive and forge new human bonds.
Forgiveness is defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group that has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve such forgiveness. Definitions emphasize that forgiveness does not include forgetting, nor does it condone or excuse the offense. So how do we know elephants forgive? In the midst of genocide, we continue to see African elephants approaching vehicles in the bush with curiosity and trust, mothers proudly display their new born calves to researchers, calves wounded physically and/or psychologically by poachers muster the will to live with human intervention, a bull speared numerous times allows veterinarians to treat him day after day and elephant families return to human communities that once betrayed them through retribution and revenge. Asian elephants welcome human intervention and express obvious gratitude when rescued from their hellish existence; once in sanctuary they form strong bonds to those humans who intervened on their behalf.
For some unimaginable reason, elephants continue to forgive us our trespasses and atrocities. Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick reflects on elephants and their forgiveness, “ People say to us ‘How can you carry on, amidst so much heartbreak and tragedy; amidst so many setbacks and such profound suffering’ -The answer is that we take our cue from the elephants themselves, who witness suffering and heartbreak on an almost daily basis, yet still have the courage to turn the page and focus on the living…with measured strides they move quietly and gently in their world, despite their strength and size, surrounded by family and friends, but stalked by the agony of perpetual persecution from mankind in most of their ancient haunts. Where once elephants covered huge territories during their annual migrations, unerringly following the rain and the fodder, today they are being compressed into areas that deny them the space they need, cutting them off from family members and friends far a field, their ancient migratory routes now dogged by the encroachment of expanding human populations and their existence threatened by the avaricious greed of mankind for their ivory tusks. Yet, orphaned elephants who have witnessed the slaughter of their mother and elephant family can pass on to humans the important message of forgiveness and tolerance, for in their hearts they harbour both .” Daphne Sheldrick then echoes many of us when she concludes, “I have often been ashamed to be a member of the human race in view of how elephants have been treated at the hands of humans. Noble, powerful, yet inherently gentle elephants are emotionally identical to us, but so much better than us in many ways. Endowed with a mysterious intuition, slow to anger, they never forget, and yet find forgiveness despite the unjust and evil cruelty inflicted on them.”
~Written by Elephant Advocacy~