Of Elephants and Men

By January 28, 2014 Blogs

Elephants bordered with Scripture

Several years ago, Rangers in the Kruger National Park in Africa were faced with a problem.  The elephant population at the park had grown so large that the herd had to be reduced.   A plan was devised to disburse some of the elephants to other African parks.

Being huge creatures, elephants are not easily transported.  So, the Rangers constructed a specially designed harness which they attached to a helicopter with the idea of airlifting the elephants to other wildlife preserves.

However, while the helicopters were able to lift the juvenile and adult female elephants, the much larger adult bull elephants proved too heavy for the harness.  Consequently, the juvenile and the adult female elephants were relocated without the presence of any adult males.

All seemed to go smoothly until Rangers at Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, the elephants’ new home, started to notice something strange.  White rhinos were suddenly turning up dead.

At first, the Rangers thought this might be the work of poachers seeking the precious horns of the rare white rhinos.  But upon closer examination, none of the rhinos’ horns were missing.  Moreover, their wounds had not been made by rifle shots, but punctures made by long sharp objects.  If this was not the work of poachers, who was killing the white rhinos?

To find out, the Rangers set up hidden cameras throughout the park.  What they found astonished them.  The culprits were bands of young, hyper-aggressive male elephants who, after chasing the rhinos, knocked them down and then gored them to death with their tusks.

Such behavior is unheard of in elephants.  Elephants are generally docile creatures who rarely attack other animals, especially in packs.  Yet these juvenile male elephants had banded together and were terrorizing not just the white rhinos, but other animals as well.  What could be causing such bizarre behavior?

The Rangers came upon a theory.  Under normal circumstances, a dominant adult bull elephant keeps the younger bulls in line.  When, for example, elephants experience “musth”, a time of elephant mating when testosterone levels skyrocket, older bull elephants normally keep the younger ones under control.  Perhaps these young, transported bull elephants were missing the civilizing presence of their elders.

To test this theory, the Rangers brought in a number of older bull elephants.  Sure enough, within a short period of time, the older, bull elephants let the younger ones know, in no uncertain terms, that ruffian behavior was, well, not elephant-like.

Within the week, the acting-out behavior ceased.  Instead of terrorizing other animals in the park, the younger bull elephants now were following the older bull elephants around, imitating their more appropriate – and civilized – elephant behavior.

I thought of this extraordinary story after seeing recent videotapes of groups of young males in Central Park sexually assaulting and robbing women.  What was striking about their behavior was its brazenness.  This group mayhem was not occurring under cover of night, but in broad daylight.  Many of the young men involved were laughing and smiling.  Some even mugging for the cameras.

Many have blamed the police for not intervening quickly or effectively enough in this situation.  To be sure, the police could have acted more quickly to restrain the mob.  But whether or not the police acted quickly enough is not the real question.  The real question is:  Where have all the fathers gone?

Unfortunately, too many fathers are missing.  Missing, certainly, from Central Park where these innocent women could have used our protection.  But even more importantly, too many fathers are missing from the homes of young men like these when they were children, when they were trying to figure out how a man is supposed to behave.

In the wild animal preserves of Africa, when adult bull elephants are missing, other animals have to rely on the park rangers to keep things under control.  When responsible men are missing from our homes and communities, we have to rely on the police.

Trouble is, the police, these days, are outnumbered.  With nearly 4 in 10 children being reared in father-absent homes, there are not enough police to go around.  But it’s easier to believe more police are the answer, than it is to confront the real problem – fatherlessness.

This is not an excuse for lax policing.  The police should do everything they can to protect innocents like the women in Central Park from roving bands of out-of-control males.  But at the same time, we as a society need to do more to ensure that boys grow up understanding that real men protect women, not assault them.  That’s not the job of the police; that’s the job of fathers.

Nearly forty years ago, a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote: “From the wild Irish slums of the 19th century Eastern Seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations for the future – that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Apparently, the same is true for elephants.  The Rangers solved their chaos in the parks by bringing in the adult bull elephants.  There’s a lesson in there somewhere for us as we search for a solution not only to the chaos in Central Park, but for the growing chaos in communities all across America.

By Wade F. Horn, Ph.D., President, National Fatherhood Initiative (2001)