Homicidal Teen Elephants May Explain Impact of Mass Incarceration, Single Parent Homes

What's Going On


by Dr. Boyce Watkins

A study that took place at the Pilanesberg game reserve presented scientists with  serious dilemma:  Why were teen elephants randomly murdering rhinos?

Rhinos were being found with serious wounds, gaping holes in the shape of elephant tusks.   The trampled trees at the scene of the “crimes” let scientists know that elephants were likely responsible for the homicides.    Greg Stuart-Hill, the chief ecologist of the region, said that he was sure that the elephants who’d been killed were falling victim to the same group of predators.

The killings were not natural.  Elephants don’t normally kill Rhinos, except in instances where they feel that their young are being threatened.

After doing an investigation, scientists found a group of teenage elephants who tried to kill a Rhino right in front of them.    They tracked the gang of three, shot them all and the killings stopped.

They soon realized that the reason the teens were engaging in random killings is because the ecosystem had been thrown out of balance.  Normally, mothers drive their male children from the herd around 15 years old.  The males then typically join up with a gang of other elephants, who are led by a male who “keeps them in check.”

The problem was that, in the reserve, there was no adult male to serve as a role model to the young elephants, which led to the violence and chaos that eventually ensued.  The animals would aggressively test their strength on other animals, leading to several rhinos being killed.

Clive Walker, chairman of the Rhino and Elephant Foundation of Africa, says that the teen elephants’ behavior was primarily driven by childhood trauma from watching their parents being slaughtered, and also by a lack of parental authority during their developmental years.   Many of them had been displaced to protect them from hunters who’d killed their loved ones.

I am not an expert in animal science, but it is difficult not to see parallels between what happened at this animal reserve and what is happening to millions of black families across America.  The War on Drugs, which began in the 1970s, had a huge impact on the structure of the black family in America:  Many of us were becoming addicted to the drugs, incarcerated for selling/possessing drugs or victims of the violence surrounding the drug trade.

At the same time the black community was being invaded by drugs and guns, we saw the mass exodus of economic and educational opportunities, undermining the abilities of men to serve as providers and protectors of their families.  In fact, studies have shown that the percentage of black women who marry declines in direct proportion to the size of the prison population.

What do you get a generation later?  Millions of angry young black teens who’ve had very little parental guidance and almost no male role models to support them. The secondary impact is a great deal of senseless violence occurring in the cities, as gangs become the families that many of these boys never had.

If we are to rebuild black families in America and make our streets safe, we must rebalance the ecosystem.  We can’t believe that “slaughtering” so many of our adults and marginalizing them from society is going to create a better, safer and more productive future for our children.  The War on Drugs must be critically examined by panels of experts with some degree of authority to implement changes that will lead to fair and just outcomes.  We CANNOT tolerate a justice system that makes America less safe than it was before.

It’s time to address the elephant in the middle of the room (pun intended) and start doing the right thing.

Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and author of the book, “Black American Money”. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. Please join Dr. Watkins and Min. Louis Farrakhan for a summit on “Wealth, Education, Family and Community: A New Paradigm for Black America” to be held in Chicago on March 30. You can RSVP by clicking here.





  1. There is big profit in people going to schools that are failing, staying on welfare, going to prison by way of the courts, probation system, parole system, lack of equal work with equal pay and other factors. The answer, mass protest and sanctions.

  2. Be careful about giving credence to studies that show the solution to problems like this was more killing. The elephants that killed the rhinos were killed to solve the problem. Is that what should be done to young black males? Be careful.

    • Harold, you really need to get a check on reality. Yes, there are conspiracies but the reality is that everyone is not going to be saved. We have to do our very best to keep our youth from entering this “tract” to prison and death. Once they’ve been there for so long there may be no easy answers

    • Killing the male teen elephants was not the solution… Read the whole article, the solution was to re-introduce the adult male. He keeps the male teens in check.

  3. WTH? You think that next time we theorize/speculate on the troubling dynamic of ‘Black teenage rage’…that we leave the animal kingdom out of it? Never buying this human/animal connection unless…and until I’ve witnessed Elephants, Rhinos, and humans situated around a conference table…engaged in conversation! …See how ridiculous that sounded? Goodness!

    • I’m laughing my booty off (lmbo) I feel you!!!!!!!!

    • It’s clear you dont understand nature or behaviour. Animals have the same emotions we do and respond the same way to most stimuli. If you missed the parallels from this story to our own plight, then you’re clueless.

  4. You do realize how they solved their problem right? They took a gun and shot the teen elephants in the head. This is not a solution for humans. Give teens jobs and adult supervision and you will reduce teen crime. Single parent homes and lack of male role models is not the reason some teens decide to be terrors. Some kids are just bad apples…concentrate on the good ones.

    • On the PBS program I saw on the Elephants, the BULL Elephants were re-introduced to the Reserve. Once those Daddy Bull Elephants were re-introduced, the teen male Elephants stopped their rampage and killings. It was AMAZING to see those little teen male Elephantss “quiver” when those huge Bull Males strutted into that Reserve lol 🙂

      We need more Black Men to strut in our Black community.

      • Our Bull Elephants would be mowed down with automatic weapons.Sounds like were talking about is feral humans. It’s a shame but this might be how we have to look at this situation.

  5. this makes perfect since with the exception of the solution.

  6. The solution remains more mature, responsible Black male presence in our community and at an early age. I once help run a “At-Risk” (so-called), youth program in inner city Miami and it was amazing to watch how those kids responded to adults who showed a sincere concern and interest in them. Many of them were 2d-4th generations products of Babies having Babies . . .

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