Elephants Are Self-aware. Trumps Are Not.

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Back when I was just a baby teenaged magician, I had a friend who was a clown with Ringling Brothers. When I asked him about his time there, the main thing he always wanted to talk about were the elephants. Well, also weird clown groupies that come to the circus and try to seduce clowns, but those stories were neck and neck with elephant stories. He told me how they were the smartest, kindest, loveliest animals he’d ever interacted with. They would remember people by name and face, they’d willingly help out as needed, and they understood music cues better than their human co-workers. Those stories, somewhat ironically, were the impetus for my first realization that elephants were too amazing to be put to work in circuses.

Since that time I (and humanity as a whole) have learned so much more about elephants — they are one of a very few animals to have rituals around death, honoring the bones of even dead elephants they don’t know. They can use tools, they paint pictures, they play instruments, they can mimic sounds including human words — in these ways, they’re a lot like humans, and they even have a brain with a complex neocortex like us.

Unfortunately, none of that seems to matter to the Trump family. Eric and Donald Trump, Jr. have slaughtered several animals, or at least posed with the corpses of several animals that were probably killed by a well-paid tour guide. That includes an elephant, whose tail they sawed off and held up triumphantly.

In a way it’s understandable that they don’t relate to these majestic creatures, because they actually don’t share that many traits with them. Sure, the Trumps can mimic human words and probably paint pictures, but studies have shown that elephants can solve complex problems and are self-aware. Self-awareness studies in animals usually involve putting a little mark on their forehead and showing them a mirror — if they try to touch the mark, it shows that they understand the mirror is showing them themselves.

I’m fairly certain that if you put an “x” on Donald Trump Jr.’s forehead and showed him a mirror, he’d think he was looking at an evil twin of himself from an alternate universe and try to shoot him with a hunting rifle so he could cut off one of his chins as a trophy.

Due to that complete lack of awareness, Trump’s administration has just reversed an Obama-era ban on importing elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe, where there are only about 100,000 elephants remaining in the wild. Obviously the purpose of this is so that Trump’s dipshit progeny can get their toy elephant tail home but the stated purpose is so that more people will go kill elephants but pay to do so, and those payments will fund elephant conservation. This is like saying we’re going to fix lung cancer by letting kids buy cigarettes and giving the profits to the American Cancer Association. It doesn’t work, and we know for a fact it doesn’t work, not just because of common sense but because countries have tried legalizing rhino horn and it led to a huge uptick in the number of rhinos being poached.

Meanwhile, other countries have learned that they can make far more money in tourist dollars by protecting their native species from hunters. But hey, that’s scientifically proven to work, and we know that the Trump family lacks the complex neocortex necessary to understand the data. If only they had more in common with elephants, perhaps they wouldn’t actively contribute to the destruction of several truly remarkable species.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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One Comment

  1. Maybe with Mugabe gone, things will improve for elephants in Zimbabwe?

    I know someone who taught in Zimbabwe. When he was there, there were fruit vendors with scurvy. (He responded the simple way: Buying multivitamins for his students, which all the other teachers assumed were amphetamines, of course.) That should tell you how bad Mugabe’s administration was.

    I’m honestly scared for Barron, with a family like that.

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