grey scale photograph of two elephant

The Memory of An Elephant

Jenny was a resident living at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. in 1999. Jenny became very excited and could hardly be contained when she was introduced to, new arrival, Shirley, an Asian elephant. Caretakers could not explain the two animals’ reactions as they embraced one another with their trunks and familiarized themselves with one another’s scents. They even traced scars on each other bodies as if it were a medical exam.   

The caretakers knew a little about Jenny’s past in the circus but knew even less about Shirley. However, it was obvious to all that these two ladies knew one another. After doing some research and digging into Jenny and Shirley’s past it was discovered that they in fact had been friends, twenty-three years earlier. Shirley was a short-term elephant brought on for a few months in the same traveling circus as Jenny. These two remarkable ladies were acquainted for a few months, but they never forgot one another. 

The elephant has an incredible and well documented memory. Over the last one hundred years scientist, researchers and animal society’s have discovered the accurate ability of elephants to recall information from previous years. This remarkable characteristic directly contributes to the success or failure of a herd which is made up of mothers and their calves.

The matriarch elephant, who generally leads the herd, decides much concerning the family’s direction and activity. A study by Scientific American, proved that elephant herds with matriarchs between the ages of fifty to fifty-five years of age had a significantly lower rate of death among their brood during times of extreme drought. This fact was due to the matriarch recalling previous droughts and the places the herd had migrated to find food and water.

Elephants also demonstrate the ability to remember both good experiences and bad. They remember injuries and even hold grudges against those who hurt them. African Elephants, for instance, react negatively towards certain smells and colors of clothing. Researchers discovered the elephant’s memories of past experiences were being triggered to recall encounters with Maasai tribesmen. The tribesmen often threw spears at the elephants to prove their manhood.

I am not much different from an elephant when it comes to memories, both good and bad. I remember good times and not so good times. I remember people who were kind as well as people who weren’t very kind, in fact they were mean. Like the elephant, I am prone to hold a grudge towards those who threw spears at me just to prove a point. Oh, the memories that break lose and roll around in our minds from time to time.  

On the other hand, at times I was the one who caused bad memories in others of my own species. I have not always been so kind. Occasionally, I threw spears of insult and sarcasm at others just to prove I was in some way superior, to prove I was a man. Honestly, I am sure there are a few people out there who I have wronged, and they might even hold a grudge towards me. When I examine these memories which come unpacked and roll around in my mind, I have remorse. I wish I could go back and make it better.

People are a lot like elephants in that we can recall both good and bad events in our lives. We are able to use memories in a wise and productive way but also in an unproductive and negative way. 1st Corinthians 13 verse 5 gives us an escape from the negative effects of grudges, “love keeps no record of wrongs.” This is a high standard for each of us to strive but a needful one. I have both hurt and been hurt. I have wounded and offended and been the victim of the same. The wisdom of not counting every wrong and offense is a necessity if we are going to be at peace with others in the present and have healthy and productive memories in our past.

The next time I am tempted to nurse a grudge against someone who threw a spear at me just to prove they were better, hopefully I will also recall those at whom I have thrown a spear. Maybe if I forgive others, then others will forgive me.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs…”

Scientific American, James Ritchie, Jan 12, 2009, | Fact or Fiction? Elephants Never Forget

Wonderopolis, Wonder of the Day #228 | Do Elephants Ever Forget?