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13 June 2024 : Indian Express Editorial Analysis


Topic: GS3 – Environment – Conservations – Species
  • A recent study reveals that elephants use unique, non-imitative sounds as proper names, challenging the idea that complex identity concepts are exclusively human.
  • This discovery suggests elephants have person-like traits, prompting a reconsideration of how humans ethically treat them.
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The Significance of Names:

  • Names hold profound significance, as attested by psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers. They are fundamental to individual identity, providing a sense of self when addressed in a crowd.
  • Despite the ubiquity of common names like “Ramesh” in an Indian city, the specific “Ramesh” being called often recognizes the address.
  • Names provide an enduring identity through the various stages of life, from the baby named on a birth certificate to the same name on a death certificate, despite the vast differences in the individual across these stages.
  • This complexity of naming intertwines with concepts such as the self, identity, consciousness, and ethics, traditionally viewed as uniquely human attributes.

Elephants and Their Use of Names:

  • A groundbreaking study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals that elephants, known for their rich social and emotional lives and complex communication abilities, call each other by specific names.
  • Utilizing machine learning and field experiments, researchers discovered that, unlike dolphins and parrots, which mimic sounds as names, elephants use unique sounds for names without imitation.
  • This indicates that elephants use proper nouns, marking a significant finding in non-human species.

The Implications for Understanding Intelligence:

  • The discovery that elephants use proper names challenges the need to search for “alien life” to find emotionally intelligent, communicative, and empathetic beings.
  • Traits such as grief, memory, social ties, and now the act of naming suggest that elephants possess personhood characteristics.
  • This revelation implies that elephants should perhaps be treated with the respect and consideration given to humans.
  • However, it also highlights a paradox: humans often fail to treat each other with the dignity and empathy they deserve, raising questions about our ethical responsibilities towards other sentient beings.

Rethinking Our Relationship with Elephants:

  • The act of naming, alongside other human-like traits in elephants, strongly suggests that these animals are complex beings deserving of moral consideration.
  • As society grapples with the ethical implications of this knowledge, it becomes clear that redefining our relationship with elephants is necessary.
  • Treating elephants as persons entails significant changes in how they are conserved, protected, and respected, urging a shift in both legal frameworks and societal attitudes.
What are the Key Highlights of Elephants?

Elephant is the Natural Heritage Animal of India.Elephants are considered a “Keystone Species” as they play a critical role in maintaining the balance and health of forest ecosystems.They are known for their exceptional intelligence, boasting the largest brain size of any land animal.

Significance in Ecosystem:

  • Elephants are very important grazers and browsers, eating vast amounts of vegetation every day, spreading seeds around as they go.
  • They also help shape the often-thick vegetation of the Asian landscape
  • .For example, in forests, elephants create clearings and gaps in the trees that let sunlight in to reach new seedlings, helping plants grow and the forest to regenerate naturally.
  • Elephants will also dig for water when there is not any surface water – opening water access for other creatures as well as themselves.

Elephants in India:

  • India has the largest number of wild Asian Elephants, estimated at 29,964 according to the 2017 census by Project Elephant.
  • It is about 60% of the species’ global population.Karnataka has the highest number of elephants, followed by Assam and Kerala.

Conservation Status:

  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species:
  • African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta Cyclotis)- Critically Endangered
  • African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta Africana)- Endangered
  • Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)- Endangered

Convention of the Migratory species (CMS):

  • African Forest Elephant: Appendix II
  • Asian Elephant: Appendix I

Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972:

Schedule I Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES):

  • African Savanna Elephant: Appendix II
  • Asian Elephant: Appendix I

PYQ: With reference to Indian elephants, consider the following statements: (2020)  

1) The leader of an elephant group is a female.

2) The maximum gestation period can be 22 months.

3) An elephant can normally go on calving till the age of 40 years only.

4) Among the States in India, the highest elephant population is in Kerala.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?   (a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 2 and 4 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 3 and 4 only

  Ans: (a)

Practice Question:  Discuss the implications of the discovery that elephants use unique, non-imitative sounds as proper names. How does this challenge traditional views on animal cognition and personhood, and what ethical considerations arise from this finding? (250 words/15 m)

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