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Elephant PTSD

and Cultural Recovery

In 2005, Kerulos’ Director Gay Bradshaw diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in free-living elephants. This science has catalyzed an entirely new approach to elephant conservation and welfare.

 

Historically, elephants in India and other parts of Asia roamed across the continent. Today, there is intense conflict between humans and elephants. Elephants in close confinement captivity live in chronic stress, deprivation, and pain even when direct physical punishment is not employed. While culturally engrained images of performing animals and zoo exhibits may evoke nostalgia and fascination for humans, the experience of animals in captivity is far different. The measure of elephant suffering can perhaps be best appreciated when we take into account the radical differences between captivity and the wild habitats to which they are ecologically, psychologically and evolutionarily adapted.

 

Elephant leg, chained.

When release from abuse does occur, the road to recovery is not easy. Elephants coming to sanctuary experience tremendous improvements, yet they still carry the scars and burden of their past experience. Similar to human prisoners who survive, elephants from circuses and zoos are diagnosed with Complex PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and other trauma-induced conditions.

 

Sadly, free-living elephants are no longer immune from the ravages of trauma. Poaching, culls, and the stress of life in shrinking habitat have torn apart elephant society. Orphaned infants suffer physiological and emotional shock when they lose their mothers and families and elephants everywhere are under siege from human pressures. Elephants and their culture are threatened with collapse.