Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When Elephants Rule the Earth!

I'm a fan of Orson Scott Card so when I saw a big ole book of his short stories, Keeper of Dreams, at the library I snatched that shit up. The first story, "Elephants in Posnan," takes place in a post-apocalyptic climate-change-affected Poland where the last few survivors in Europe band together after a reproductive-function-killing plague wiped out most of humanity. The last possibly fertile female is paired for 3 months at a time with different men, including the story's narrator who manages to get her up the duff.

After a year long gestation, the baby is cut out of her. He has a huge head and two strange ducts between his eyes and ears that leak fluid - just like the elephants that start invading Posnan.

Turns out, the elephants caused the virus to wipe out humans. The narrator calls them our gods that we simply didn't recognize. The elephants take his son around the world to find the only other human child born like him - a female, of course. They come back to Posnan to have a human wedding ceremony and then run off with the elephants to re-populate the planet with elephantine humans.

I don't know about you, but I found the story a little disturbing needless to say - like if instead of saying "so long and thanks for all the fish" the dolphins rose up against us instead. But maybe what I found most disturbing was having to accept the idea that animals may well be around long after us humans have died out. It's a future I refuse to accept (obviously why I'm working at an environmental place) but I know it might happen anyway.

So with this frame of mind about elephants, it surprised and kind of wigged me out even more to run across an article about elephants and climate change and how they are a species strangely cut out for dealing with it (as long as there are old lady elephants around anyway). From Mongabay.com:

A recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) suggests that old female elephants—and perhaps their memories of distant, life-sustaining sources of food and water—may be the key to survival during the worst of times.

In particular, experienced elephant matriarchs seem to give their family groups an edge in the struggle for survival in periods of famine and drought, according to a recently published paper in The Royal Society's Biology Letters.

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, ZSL researcher and co-author, added, "Climate change is expected to lead to a higher occurrence of severe drought in Africa and our study suggests that such extreme climatic events may act as a selection force on animal populations. As animals battle to cope, certain individuals—such as these grand dames of the elephant kingdom—might become increasingly important."

Specifically, the study examines patterns of calf mortality during the drought of 1993 in Tanzania's Tarangire National Park, the most severe drought in that region in the past 35 years. During a nine-month period of that year, sixteen out of 81 elephant calves in the three groups studied died, a mortality rate of 20 percent. The normal mortality rate of calves during non-drought years is a mere two percent. ...

[A]n examination of the ages of the individual elephants in the three herds was even more suggestive. The data indicated that the age of the mother elephants was an important predictor for calf survival. The two groups that left the park, presumably in search of food and water, had matriarchs that were ages 45 and 38 years of age respectively, whereas the group that remained had a matriarch that was only 33 years of age, the result of heavy poaching during the 1970's and 1980's that targeted older females with large tusks.

"Hopefully, this study underlines the importance of how crucial older matriarchs are to the health of elephant populations," added Foley. "Protecting the leaders of elephant herds will be even more important in what may be an increase in droughts due to climate change."
It's just all so weirdly coincidental that I find it rather creepy. I can't believe Orson Scott Card managed to make me scared of elephants... now that's talent!

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...I wonder how one would get along with my cat?