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 On Being Human: The Delinquents 
 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
They're bent on destruction - terrorizing the neighborhood isn't enough.

Their pattern is clear and predictable. The endpoint is torment - widespread death, murder in fact. The culprits are out of control and the blood-bath is sickening.

Forget the judicial process. Caught red-handed on videotape, the case is closed. The gang leaders are shot. The remaining teenagers have to be taught a lesson.

The story is true. It recently happened not in our town or in any US inner city. This shocking account recently emerged from South Africa and was televised on CBS's 60 Minutes.

The victims aren't frail elderly, they're rhinos. The aggressors aren't school age delinquents, they're teenage male elephants.

Yes, animals acting like humans! The film crew actually showed elephants taunting rhinos - throwing branches and stones at them and incessantly inciting confrontation. Remember, this isn't junior high school although it certainly feels that way!

Perhaps it's time we rewrote the book on animal behavior. I've heard too often that the only life form that kills for any reason other than survival is the human. As children, we've learned that predators in the wild innately kill to sustain themselves. The food chain concept is well-accepted. We're also aware (through box office spectaculars) of the occasional rogue animal that turns on a village.

Yet the concept of a gang bent on terrorizing its victims does not bring forth images of the animal kingdom. What you’re about to learn may be even more surprising.

For the conservationists who uncovered the behavior and discovered the problem immediately recognized its cause. Several years ago, the population of elephants in that South African reserve was expanding beyond available resources. A veterinarian was called in for consultation. The purported expert, who demonstrated little remorse when interviewed on 60 Minutes, suggested a simple solution. Without careful consideration of the potential outcome, the "so-called" conservationists subsequently shot the entire adult elephant population leaving their orphans to fend for themselves.

And what they now know has to be eye-opening for all of us. These typically docile elephants are far more than simple ornaments in park reserves or circuses.

Left to grow up on their own, these teenage animals, without appropriate role models, are bound to go astray. Testosterone associated behavior, if left unchecked, can result in frightening consequences for humans and animal teenagers.

I'm certain some of you might be dismissing this theory as pure conjecture. How can we prove that absence of role models resulted in such surprising behavior?

The answer is simple. Reinstate potential role models and observe the resultant behavior. This is precisely how the problem was eventually solved.

A team of conservationists and scientists carefully relocated a number of adult male elephants to the reserve. Standing impressively larger and more dominating than the teens, the adults not surprisingly kept the outlaws in check. They did so not with physical aggression, but rather with obvious body language. Within a short period of time, the rhinos were safe again.

While you might be wondering why I chose this story for my column, the answers are simple. It's time we learned that behavior is predictable. Each of us has unique potential to create or destroy. The combination of nature and nurture should never be underestimated.

Having children doesn't qualify us as parents. Investing constructive time and effort in their lives isn't optional - it's essential. As adults, our actions have a great effect on our children's present and future behavior. Left to fend for themselves, the results are predictable. Allowing a child in his/her formative years to remain unchecked in all circumstances is predictive of disaster. Growing up without a role model leaves one's future highly uncertain.

We should also never forget that human action created these elephant gangs. Wiping out an entire adult population can hardly be justifiable as conservationism. When will we realize that meddling with the balance of nature will bring about severe consequences?

Ultimately perhaps we should take a serious look at what we're teaching our children and how they are modeling our behavior. What we leave behind is more than a legacy - the fate of future of civilizations to come depends on the choices we make as a society today.

Left to man's unchecked destructive actions, the animal kingdom will predictably perish. Failure to take appropriate action with our children and to serve as optimal role models will predictably result in behavior that's extremely difficult to justify anywhere in the animal kingdom - Mind Over Matter!

©2001 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

      
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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
 
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