If, as the saying goes, elephants never forget, then the elephants in the wildlife haven of Gorongosa National Park probably remember Mozambique’s civil war better than some humans do. So indelible are the memories of the country’s 15-year-long civil war, which raged from 1977 to 1992, that they are written in the elephants’ genes.
As a result of the massive slaughter by the warring soldiers, who traded ivory to finance weapons for their protracted struggle, more and more elephants at Gorongosa are being born without their second most recognizable appendage: their tusks—natural selection deftly stepping in to make the species less attractive to human predators in only a few short generations.
It’s also made them into something of a churlish lot. Compared to elephant populations in, say, Kenya, Gorongosa’s trunk-swinging pachyderms are the éléphant terrible of their species—more apt to charge at humans driving Jeeps and Land Rovers, which they remember as death on four wheels. Whatever peace has been forged in the three decades since the war ended, it is—as far as the elephants are concerned—fragile and contingent.
“They’ve got a bit of an attitude,” said Joyce Poole, scientific director of the conservation nonprofit Elephant Voices, who has been studying elephants for nearly 50 years. “Many of the elephants in Gorongosa are old enough to remember vehicles bearing soldiers, and the younger ones learn from that behavior. It’s a transgenerational trauma.” [Continue reading…]