We don’t know yet whether it was intentional or accidental. Obviously cruelty to any animal is saddening, but the fact that the animal was pregnant has struck a chord. Any attack on an infant or a pregnant mother of any species is deemed repugnant. Let us assume for now that the deed was intentional. No excuses, but there wasn’t any way for the perpetrators to know that the animal was pregnant.
Let us quickly review the comparative anatomy of the pelvic bones across the species. Aristotle was the first philosopher to comment heavily on it but John Hunter; the father of scientific surgery took it to an art form. You may not have heard of John Hunter, but during the current pandemic, who can forget, John’s most famous student? Edward Jenner, the creator of first successful vaccine. Small Pox. In fact the word vaccine comes from Latin vacca, which means a cow, whose pox he used.
Most animal babies are able to fend for themselves within minutes of drawing the first breath. A deer fawn is able to stand in 10 minutes after birth and walk in 7 hours. A wolf cub can walk in 2 weeks and comes out of the den in 3.
A big exception to this in the animal world is humans. Humans have evolved to make their babies totally dependent on parenting for first several years of life. For independence at birth, a reasonable advanced brain (in other words, bigger head circumference) would be required and that would preclude a developed baby being delivered via the human female pelvis. Hence human babies are dependent for several years. This no time for levity but some human babies, these days are dependent for decades.
Elephants are on the other end of the spectrum. They carry the pregnancy for a long long time so that the calf is able to understand and participate in the complex social structure. Asian elephants typically carry the baby for about 22 months
The current reporting is that the injury happened about a 15 to 30 days ago and the the calf would have been delivered in about 20 months. So at the time of injury, the elephant must have conceived about 14 days prior. Human gestation period is 280 days and Elephant’s is 650 days. So in comparative terms, it is like a human female being pregnant for 6.03 days. There is no way the perpetrators knew that the elephant was pregnant. It does not make their crime, if indeed it was intentional, less egregious, but they couldn’t have known.
There is a sadness knowing that the elephant literally killed herself, unable to eat, and what might be going through her mind about her baby. Again, no excuses, but if we are artificially seeking solace, we can derive spurious comfort from the fact that, if the pregnancy was that early, probably even the elephant wouldn’t have known that she was pregnant.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I am not kidding, our father, the father of our nation Mahatma Gandhi said this. Let us reflect.