Elephants can suffer from PTSD
We now know that elephants are sensitive souls, with strong bonds to their family members, a need for comfort and a long memory. So it should be no surprise that we've seen symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder among elephants who go through a tragedy, such as witnessing a family member being killed by poachers. Calves orphaned by poachers will show PTSD-like symptoms even decades later. Elephants released from abusive situations show symptoms of PTSD long after they've found safety in a sanctuary.
"Events or 'stressors' that underlie the development of PTSD include threat of death; physical abuse; deprivation; torture; isolation; forced incarceration (captivity); and witnessing the loss, death or threat of death to a loved one. All elephants in captivity have experienced most, if not all, of these events," write researchers G.A. Bradshaw and Lorin Lindner.
This is one reason why culls and poaching have a profound impact on surviving elephants. “A death of an individual has an impact, on the family, within the community,” trans-species psychologist Bradshaw told Here and Now. “But when that keeps happening over and over and over and over, in increasing numbers, you start to get the entire fabric of the community, of the population, of the net, falling apart. You have a sustained psychological trauma, and then you do not have any of the traditional healing structures of the elephant family and culture.”
Another study has shown that when selective individuals are killed in a cull or by poachers, young elephants lose vital social information that would have been passed down by the adults. (And you'll learn more about the breakdown of young elephants when the elders are lost on the next slide.)