Elephant Wakes and Anthropomorphism

Elephant Wakes and Anthropomorphism

One of the main sticking points for those who say that we are just highly evolved animals is the capacity of humans to display spiritual characteristics. Humans show creativity in our ability to create art and music, to feel guilt, to be sympathetic, to have a concept of self, and to worship. Those who suggest we are just animals with big brains and no unique qualities have tried for over 100 years to find examples of “human behavior” in the animal kingdom. Some of those attempts have been front-page stories such as the reports of Koko, the gorilla. The trainer claimed that Koko created works of art and adopted a cat as a pet, but the bias of Koko’s trainer turned out to be the cause of the behavior. Most researchers admit that there was a great deal of anthropomorphism involved in the stories about Koko, and the same goes for elephant wakes.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to an animal. Recently the Washington Post and The Week have published articles about elephants grieving and holding wakes or “religious services” when one of their kind dies. As you read the reports, you see strong suggestions that the reporters are engaging in anthropomorphism to support their claims of elephant wakes.

One report tells of seeing elephants touching corpses with their trunks and trying to lift them. It said they were “performing dominance behaviors typically used to protect sought after resources such as plentiful fruit trees or shady groves.” The reports also tell of members of five different elephant families interacting with a corpse for three weeks. There is also mention of a ten-year-old elephant walking away from her mother’s body with liquid streaming from her temporal glands indicating “great stress.” To suggest that these behaviors are religious ceremonies or elephant wakes seems to be the least likely explanation.

Elephants are herd animals. The matriarch is the leader of the herd, and when that leader dies, a power struggle takes place among the other females. This competition involves great stress, but it is a long way from a religious service. There is no evidence of elephants comprehending death. Some try to lift the corpse to its feet, demonstrating a lack of understanding of death. No elephant has attempted a burial, memorial, or preservation.

Humans are created in the image of God. We not only grieve, but we engage in behavior that indicates a belief that the departed is in a better existence. We honor our dead, and we continue to honor their memory. This is a spiritual awareness that is unique to humans. The value of human life cannot be denigrated by trying to find animal behavior with the same cause and effect.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Reference: The Week, March 13, 2020, page 19.

Animal Sizes and Human Benefits

Animal Sizes and Human BenefitsThere have always been large animals living on planet Earth, and there are also massive numbers of small animals. The question is whether there is a reason for each of these to exist. What is the reason for animal sizes?

Large animals require not only a lot of room but also significant amounts of food to provide energy for their massive bodies. In ancient times, dinosaurs became enormous. Their capacity to eat large quantities of plant material and spread the seeds was also huge. Today, our large animals such as rhinos and elephants are nowhere near the size of many of the dinosaurs. Still, they are large, and they consume enormous amounts of plant material. A whole ecosystem is built around these large animals, but the space available to house them is becoming smaller and smaller. Most scientific studies indicate the likely extinction of the large animal forms.

Researchers at England’s University of Southampton have been studying 15,500 mammal and bird species to ask what the future holds for large animals. Their studies show that in the next 100 years, the average body mass of mammals will shrink by 25%. As the larger animals become extinct, smaller, fertile animals will replace them.

The design of this system is amazing. In the primitive Earth, there was a need to provide resources in massive quantities over a large geographic area, and the larger animals could do that. As we dig into the fossil records of Earth, we see evidence of how successful this system was. Massive coal beds speak of conditions very different from those of today. Providing these resources required enormous animals.

Environmental change has made the production of these kinds of resources unnecessary. God designed the system in such a way that size fits the needs of the ecosystem. While we are reluctant to allow large animals to become extinct, their survival is no longer critical to the continuance of the ecosystem in which they live. Human influence has also been a factor in the reduction of animal sizes.

We find an example of the importance of small animal sizes in the oceans. Coral reefs are critical to the survival of ecosystems along the shorelines of the world. The United States Geological Survey reports that in U.S. Waters, coral reefs provide more than 1.8 billion dollars in flood protection benefits every year. The reefs are vast collections of tiny organisms which break waves, drain energy from ocean storms, and protect the land along the shoreline. In 2017 tropical storms caused more than $265 billion in damage in the United States. Much of that damage was due to the destruction of coral reefs.

God has designed animal sizes to allow them to benefit humans. He has left it to us to understand how these systems work and protect and nurture them. We live in an amazing world that has been created with wisdom and purpose. Understanding how animals benefit us will lead to protecting and caring for the world in which we live.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Data from National Wildlife, October/November 2019, page 8.

Elephant Ecology or Extinction

Elephant Ecology or ExtinctionThere are those who like to change things, even if they have not investigated all the ramifications of that change. When God’s creation is involved, there are especially drastic proposals that are sometimes a product of ignorance. There is an ongoing battle between those who want to preserve elephants as a species and those who say that elephants are an ecological disaster. Instead of elephant ecology, they believe that elephants need to travel the road to extinction.

Those who want to allow elephants to go the way of the dinosaurs say that the volume of plants they need to survive makes them too destructive to justify their existence. To support such claims, they show pictures of areas decimated by elephants and tell stories about the invasion of elephants into agricultural regions. Elephants, they say, have threatened the survival of whole communities of subsistence farmers by eating the plants humans depend on.

On the other side of the fence is the “Save the Elephant” campaign in Kenya. They maintain that there is interconnectivity in the natural world between all organisms. They argue that elephants provide a variety of connections to various African ecologies. Elephants are ecosystem engineers. Scientists tell us that elephants knock over trees, trample brush, prune branches, and disperse seeds, which increases the biodiversity of the areas in which they live. Elephant ecology helps to maintain the savannas and forests.

A recent discovery connects the largest animals in the African ecology with the smallest. Herpetologist Dr. Stephen Platt has been studying the Nay Ya Inn wetland in Myanmar (Burma). He found that frogs depend on elephants in a very surprising way. As elephants travel in wetland areas, they leave Jacuzzi-size pools in the ground that stay full of water during the dry season. Frogs depend on these pools to lay eggs and develop tadpoles to maintain their populations in a fragile environment. Platt says there other small organisms that also depend on these pools for their survival. In Platt’s words: “Such microcosms of life are probably commonplace, but almost no one has bothered to look before.”

Earth’s history has been full of examples where large animals supported an ecosystem that produced not only life, but also resources for humans. Dinosaurs were huge for a reason, and it was not to make movies. Like the elephant, dinosaurs provided for humans by being the ecosystem engineers of their day. Without them, we would not have the coal, gas, iron, and many other resources that make our modern world possible.

God has provided for us in some incredible ways, and elephant ecology has opened our minds to a whole new way of seeing that.
— John N. Clayton © 2019

Reference: Scientific American, September 2019, page 16.

Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors

Zoopharmacognosy Animal Doctors Zoopharmacognosy is a word you don’t see every day. It’s actually a combination of three Greek words which mean “animal” (zoo), “drug” (pharma), and “knowing” (gnosy). It refers to animals using plants, soils, insects, or drugs to solve specific medical problems. It is animals (not humans) medicating themselves. Mammals, birds, and even insects use zoopharmacognosy to cure medical problems, and sometimes to prevent them. Here are a few examples.

It is fairly common to see a sick dog or cat eating grass to induce vomiting.

Sick chimpanzees swallow bitter leaves of Aspilia, a plant that contains an anti-parasitic chemical. The leaves are covered with bristles and bitter tasting so the chimps roll up the leaves and swallow them whole like we might take a pill.

Others chimps and bonobos with diarrhea will split open the stem of an Aframomum plant and suck the bitter juice. The juice contains chemicals which kill parasites which cause diarrhea.

Spider monkeys in Brazil have been seen eating seed pods from a tree known as monkey ear or elephant ear (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) during mating season. The fruit contains progesterone which promotes female fertility.

Brown bears make a paste from the chewed roots of osha (Ligusticum porteri) mixed with saliva and rub it into their fur to repel insects and soothe the bites. The plant contains coumarins which repel fleas and ticks.

To get rid of lice, many songbirds with put ants on their feathers or even roll in an anthill. The ants secrete formic acid, which kills feather lice.

Ants infected with Beauveria bassiana, a soil fungus, will eat harmful substances that are antifungal.

Many kinds of animals will eat dirt to absorb toxins, to combat parasites, or as an antacid. Sometimes they eat dirt to supplement minerals that are missing in their diet.

Pregnant elephants will chew the leaves of a specific tree in the Boraginaceae family to induce labor. Kenyan women make tea from those leaves to help with childbirth. In many cases, people have learned medicines and tonics from animals.

There are many more examples of zoopharmacognosy in which animals act as their own doctors. How did animals get this knowledge? It seems to be instinctive, not learned. Perhaps this instinct was put within the genetic code of these animals by their Creator.
— Roland Earnst © 2019

Design in Hearing

Design in Hearing
One of the amazing features of animals is design in hearing. Humans can hear sounds between 20 and 20,000 vibrations per second (Hertz). That range allows us to communicate through the air and enjoy music. Various animals can hear sounds in different parts of the frequency spectrum.

Dogs can hear frequencies higher than 20,000 Hertz. We call these sounds ultrasonic because they are above the frequencies we can hear. We use ultrasonic sounds for examining the organs inside the human body. We use it to view unborn babies inside their mother’s womb. Ultrasonic sound has uses such as cleaning of jewelry or other items. But we can’t hear it. The ability to hear ultrasonic sounds gives dogs and other animals a defense advantage. Try to sneak up on a dog. If you open a door or step on a floorboard creating an ultrasonic squeak which you can’t hear, the dog will hear and know that you are coming.

Elephants, whales, and other large animals can hear low frequencies and use them to communicate over many miles because low frequencies travel more efficiently through the ground or water. But it isn’t just large animals that use these subsonic sounds. Some small animals, like moles, can also hear low frequencies since those sounds travel well through the ground. If a mole communicated through sounds we could hear, finding and killing them would be easier for their predators and us. Because they communicate at frequencies below 20 Hertz, they are not easily detected by animals above the ground.

Design in hearing also applies to frogs, snakes, and many insects that can also hear very low or very high frequencies allowing them to communicate with others of their kind without detection by different species. Different creatures use various portions of the audio spectrum. If a creature gives off sounds that its predators can hear, they will literally be “dead meat.”

The world of sound rings out loudly the incredible design of the Creator who gave various creatures the ability to hear the sounds they need to hear. We can be thankful that God gave us the ability to hear the beautiful sounds of music and the spoken voice.
–Roland Earnst © 2018