Today’s EleFACT delves into the misconception that, because elephants can be taught to perform certain behaviors, or because they have close contact with humans, they are actually domesticated animals. Though humans have been interacting with and using elephants for labor or entertainment purposes, that doesn’t take away their wild nature.
Domestication, like you would see with your dogs or cats, involves selecting specific characteristics and breeding to enhance those chosen features. This takes generations and involves genetic changes over time. Experts estimate that, to be domesticated, animals likely require at least 10-12 generations of selective breeding to reach a domesticated state. During that process, offspring from each generation are chosen for further breeding based on the desired traits. This can alter the animal’s basic instincts and anatomy. For instance, a dog or cat might be bred to have a specific kind of ear or tail, a calm or energetic personality.
Throughout the 3,000-year history of humans using elephants for various purposes, most elephants have been captured from the wild. A few may be first or second generation captive born, but they are not bred selectively for the traits humans might want. It’s not possible for one individual wild animal to become domesticated within their lifetime.
This is an important concept to understand, because the misconception allows people to view elephants as they would a pet, seeing them chained, ridden, or performing as normal. The reality is that, even in captivity, elephants are wild animals and should be respected and treated as such.
Photo of Mara and Bambi, enjoying their sanctuary habitat