Elephants have been known to murder rhinoceroses, apparently for no better reason that "to test their strength" (although the exact reason isn't known for certain).
The rhino killings stopped, and the case appears closed. But
scientists are left to figure out the most baffling question of all:
What motivated these elephants to behave in such a savage and
The answers they are coming up with would not surprise criminology
students in the United States. They also offer no real assurances that
the rhinos are out of danger.
In the late 1970s Pilanesberg became a pioneer in the restocking of
animals. Baby elephants that would have been marked for slaughter in
other parks (as part of the annual cull to keep elephant populations
manageable) were moved instead to Pilanesberg along with two adult
females to care for them.
Mothers normally drive male elephants from the herd once they reach
adulthood. Males start drifting away around age 15, eventually linking
up with other groups of male elephants led by a patriarch.
But now that Pilanesberg's elephants are reaching adolescence, there
are no adult males for them to follow. Thus, they have become juvenile
delinquents deprived of adult supervision or role models.
"There are no adult bulls around to keep them in check," Stuart-Hill
said. "So they're highly aggressive and are testing their strength on
He prefers a biological explanation: the sudden surge of hormones in
adolescent elephants that produces aggressive behavior normally
controlled by older males.
If he is right, the killings might have stopped only because the
mating season ended. He conceded that three innocent elephants might
have been killed and that the problem could resurface next year when
the mating season resumes.
The white rhino, hunted to the brink of extinction earlier this
century by humans, then would be facing a new threat to its existence
from bands of unruly, juvenile-delinquent elephants.