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Do elephants deliberately kill people?

Elephants in a group approach and pressure an intruder on a motorcycle

The question in the title is asking whether individual elephants or elephants acting together deliberately target an individual person or persons with the intention of killing them. In the human world this is murder so the question could be rephrased as to whether elephants deliberately murder people. My research on the Internet doesn’t provide an answer except that there are two stories, one very current, which indicates that the answer might be, yes. Or elephants are violently pushing back in the human-elephant conflict.

Elephants in a group approach and pressure an intruder on a motorcycle

Elephants in a group approach and pressure an intruder on a motorcycle. The motorcyclist begs them to stop.

Elephant kills 70-year-old woman and returns to trample her corpse

This story is currently doing the rounds on the Internet. It is a very disturbing story. An elephant killed a 70-year-woman in eastern India by trampling on her. It occurred in Odisha state on Thursday according to police. Maya Murmu was at a well drawing water in a village when the elephant appeared out of nowhere. It had strayed from the Dalma wildlife sanctuary, which, apparently, is 200 km from the village. The woman was taken to hospital where she died of her injuries.

Family members attended her funeral in the usual way. In the middle of it, the same elephant appeared and lifted her body from the funeral pyre and then trampled on it. The guests were obviously shocked. One report says that after trampling on the body the elephant threw the body away.

It was presumably recovered and the ceremony continued after the elephant left. There are no reports of anybody else being harmed.

Comment: to all intents and purposes, this looks very much like an avenging elephant with a grudge against a particular individual person. Without knowing the back story, it seems that the elephant believed that this woman did something bad against them and they wanted revenge. Why would the elephant target her so precisely? Or perhaps the elephant felt that the woman represented humankind and simply chose her randomly. If that was the case the elephant has a grudge against humankind, which would be more understandable as there has been a spike in the number of unnatural deaths of elephants in Odisha since 2000 according to the state’s chief wildlife warden.

Apparently, at least 1,356 elephants have died in that state over the past 20 years or so. In just 7 months, 42 elephant deaths were recorded and many of the deaths are as a result of human-elephant conflict.

We know that elephants have good memories. And we know that they are intelligent. Perhaps this is the elephants fighting back against humankind and they just happen to pick out this woman to send humankind a message to stop killing them.

Avenging elephants in China

Separately, in China, there is a headline on the South China Morning Post website which asks whether elephants are deliberately targeting humans when avenging their herd for something bad that humankind has done against them.

In this case, a 69-year-old farmer in Fazhanhe prefecture, Yunnan was violently attacked and killed by wild elephants. The husband survived and she said that they approached silently from behind on May 22 as they worked in a cornfield. They fled but caught up with the elderly man and killed him.

Group of elephants confront intruding motorcyclist

In the video on this page, we see a herd of elephants wandering down a road minding their own business. A man on a motorcycle comes up and the elephants treat him as an intruder and turnaround and confront him. I don’t think they differentiate between the motorcycle and the person riding it. They just see them together as an intruder interfering with their space and therefore, they pushback. The herd worked together in an impressive display of unity. This looks like a territorial conflict and the elephants wanted to protect their territory. That is my reading of it. However, it does illustrate the human-elephant conflict in various parts of the world. The man begs them to leave him alone and to not harm him.

Below are some articles on elephants

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