Now listen to part of a lecture on the topic you just read about.
Elephants are fascinating, but the beliefs you just read about are based on misunderstandings of elephant behavior.
First, we should not assume that old elephants are aware they will die soon just because they break away from their herds.
There’s a very practical reason why old elephants leave their herds.
Ya see, when elephants get old enough, their teeth become worn down and they have difficulty chewing.
So elderly elephants wander away from their herd to look for softer vegetation that’s easier to eat.
Softer vegetation is usually found near water.
That’s why many old elephants graze near water and eventually die there, in areas we’ve come to call elephant graveyards.
Second, the issue of whether elephants have artistic ability.
If you watch elephants trained to paint, you’ll notice that a human trainer is stroking the elephant’s ears whenever the elephant moves the paintbrush.
Elephant ears are very sensitive, and touching them in certain ways can be used to train the elephants to do tricks.
The trainer teaches the elephant to remember certain patterns of paintbrush strokes, and then encourages the elephant to repeat the brushstrokes by touching its ears.
So an elephant using a paintbrush is just painting lines it’s been trained to paint.
It doesn’t necessarily know that the lines are supposed to represent flowers or animals.
Third, Pliny the Elder and others are misinterpreting the reaction of elephants to mice.
Elephants that react fearfully to mice aren’t reacting to the mice themselves, but to the fact that the mice are unfamiliar to them.
Being cautious about unfamiliar animals is a natural instinct.
But elephants that live in environments where mice are common, like elephants in zoos, don’t react with fear to the mice.
Clearly, once elephants become familiar with mice and realize that they don’t pose a threat, they don’t mind them.