Elephants respond to death using complex and primate-like behaviour according to The Washington Post
Jason Bittel reports on a study done by researchers on the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya following the deaths of elephants and the behaviours and actions of other elephants in response. This review paper examines numerous reports of the reactions of elephants to death, and outlines the observations made in response to a specific 55-year old elephant named Victoria. Elephants were found to display a generalized interest in their dead even after long periods of time and showed this behaviour regardless of if the elephants had a strong bond with the deceased.
Bittel highlights some of the main observations made by the researchers which include elephants approaching and observing Victoria’s body, touching it, and investigating the carcass in various ways. He also effectively explains the fact that the researchers still do not fully understand the psychology of these elephants, thought their behaviour is indicative of feeling grief, similar to what has been observed in other primate species in response to loss. Bittel includes other studies to support this and help emphasize the complexity of these behaviours in primates as the researchers discuss. The inclusion of these sources, other experts in the field, and commentary from both authors of the paper add credibility to Bittel’s reporting.
The news article does not contain any complex and undefined jargon. Overall, this article is informative and neutral but does have a few drawbacks. Though the reporting is accurate, the title of the article is a bit ambiguous to the contents of the original review paper. Additionally, the article is very populated with advertisements, both throughout the body of the article and off to the side. This is distracting for the reader and breaks up the flow of the article. An author biography and contact information are not available, nor are any of Bittel’s other pieces. Finally, the original review paper is paywalled to the public, accessible only through a subscription or an institutional log-in. This restricts a large proportion of potential readers from gaining more information on this topic should it interest them.
Jason Bittel reports on a collection of literature regarding the impact of an elephant’s death on other elephants, related or not. Bittel’s news story, published in The Washington Post, mentions studies included in a new review article from Shifra Z, Goldenberg and George Wittemyer published in Primates, as well as external studies which offer perspective on various forms of behavioural response to an elephant’s death. The literature review covers over 30 observational reports of elephants’ behavioural responses to death. According to Goldenberg and Wittemyer, these responses can take the form of approaching the body, sniffing the body or around the body or making contact with the tusks of the deceased elephant. However, a key setback reported by Bittel in this area of research is highlighted by an external study stating that elephants have more genes encoding the components of their olfactory system than any other animal. According to Wittemyer, there is therefore an entire “olfactory landscape” that we are unable to access, preventing us from correctly interpreting the experience from the elephant’s point of view. It can, however, be concluded from the literature review that the death of an elephant can be both acknowledged and responded to by other elephants.
Bittel remains neutral throughout the news story, and does not fear-monger, sensationalize, or use emotionally charged language. The article is free of unexplained jargon, making it highly accessible to readers from all backgrounds. Bittel accurately and concisely describes the intent, methodology, and the claims resulting from the article, and uses a combination of sources from within the review as well as outside the review. Some external research articles used were published in journals with high impact factors (PNAS and Genome Research), which is beneficial for the credibility of the news story since the main review upon which it is based has been published in Primates, a journal with a low impact factor of 1.368 as of 2018. These articles are almost always clearly linked within the text and publicly available for readers who are interested in further exploring the reported information.
However, while most of the articles mentioned are publicly available, some are paywalled, such as the main review upon which Bittel’s reporting is based. This means that readers will be less able and less inclined to further investigate the research. Additionally, no contact or biographical information for Bittel is available on the webpage, presenting accessibility issues for readers who have questions about the news story.
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