IAHAIO 2021 Conference

  • Day two: Sunday 26 September

Plenary: Human-elephant interactions: “You never get enough of an elephant”, Lynette Hart

The Indian parable of the elephant and six blind men dates to Buddha’s lifetime. Each of the six men had a different view when they touched the elephant. Similarly, my naturalist collaborator, Sundar, explained, “You never get enough of an elephant.” Elephants are endlessly fascinating, mysterious, and endearing, and can be viewed from a wide range of perspectives. Ancient relationships of Asian elephants with their mahout families provide close-range views and one-to-one lifelong interactions that persist today, although in diminishing numbers. At the same time, emerging schemes with both Asian and African elephants include group management, especially for tourism, where all guides work interchangeably with the entire group of elephants. Yet, even with this structure, special relationships emerge between various human-elephant pairs, as shown with African elephants. The prodigiously large brain of elephants is structured differently than primate brains, maximizing their long-term memory and geographic orientation, but with neural processing on a slower time scale. Elephants have been the focus of extensive longitudinal field studies for many decades, yet they continue to yield new exciting information about these tantalizing species with whom we sometimes have interactions or even long-term relationships.

Lynette Hart

Lynette Hart is Professor of Anthrozoology and Animal Behavior at the UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, where she is an Anthrozoology Educator, teaching courses, leading research, and mentoring students on human-animal interactions and animal behavior. She taught junior high school science for several years while completing a Masters degree in Educational Psychology at UC Berkeley, and then went on for a PhD at Rutgers University in Animal Behavior. Once at UC Davis, she spearheaded data-based studies in the newly developing field of anthrozoology, publishing well over 100 papers. From the early 1980s, this work has focused on service dogs, optimizing people’s relationships with dogs or cats, special contributions of pets to vulnerable people, and pet loss. Another research emphasis from the 1990s on is represented in over 20 papers dealing with Asian and African elephants—their varied behaviors and interactions with mahouts and others. She is a founding member and fellow of the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ), and was selected as the first distinguished anthrozoologist in 2017.