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Holding Up A Mirror: Male Elephants & Us

Presenter: Caitlin O'Connel
Biography >>

Meet Greg, one of the many male elephants you'll hear about in Caitlin O'Connell's talk about her new book, Elephant Don, The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse. Greg's a stocky guy with an outsized swagger. He's been the intimidating yet sociable don of his posse of friends—including Abe, Keith, Mike, Kevin, Torn Trunk, and Willie. But one arid summer the tide begins to shift and the third-ranking Kevin starts to get ambitious, seeking a higher position within this social club. But this is no ordinary tale of gangland betrayal—Greg and his entourage are bull elephants in Etosha National Park, Namibia, where, for the last twenty-three years, Dr. O'Connell has been a keen observer of their complicated friendships. 

In Elephant Don, O'Connell, one of the world's leading experts on elephant communication and social behavior, offers a rare inside look at the social world of African male elephants -- a society at once exotic and surprisingly familiar. Surely we've all known a Greg or two!



​Making it Work: Politics, Culture, and Morality​ in Apes

Presenter: Frans B. M. de Waal
Biography >>

There remain few areas of social life regarding which science has not uncovered major continuities between the behavior of humans and other primates, including politics, culture, and morality. Over the last few decades, the consensus has moved from human uniqueness in all of these domains to fundamental similarity. Our socio-emotional mind is essentially a primate mind. In this lecture, Dr. de Waal will review similarities in power politics, transmission of knowledge and habits, and moral prerequisites, such as empathy and the sense of fairness. The possibility that animals have empathy and sympathy has received little attention because evolutionary biology, until recently, preferred a "nature red in tooth and claw" view that had no place for kindness. A second factor has been a taboo on the term "emotion" in relation to animals. Both of these influences take little account of actual animal behavior, which would lead one to agree with Darwin that "Many animals certainly sympathize with each other's distress or danger."

Based on Dr. de Waal's team’s research on apes, monkeys, and elephants at the Yerkes Primate Center, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Thailand, and elsewhere, his focus will be on specific, well-defined behavioral mechanisms that permit the complex social organization and extensive cooperation observed in monkeys, apes, and humans.