Titi’s death and the black swan

Bommie, Bunta and Titi 12 Feb. 2017.

We give names to elephants*. Titi was Bommie’s little calf. I thought he may make it this year, but yesterday (15 Feb. 17), Bommie came with Bunta, without the small one. He is dead. What caused his death?

His death was caused by the lack of water and food. Put simply, wood is cut, harvested and removed till the last branch. Cows overgraze the grass layer, and then goats and sheep eat all tree regeneration and foliage cut by the goat herders. There are no small trees (as we have on the Trust’s property), that could provide some food to baby elephants (they need fodder additionally to their mother’s milk). So they have nothing to eat.

With the worse drought on record in Tamil Nadu, we are facing a potential wave of elephant mortality that population models do not predict. Experts work with fancy mathematics that never take into consideration “unforeseen” events. If it could be expected, it could be modeled. And they go around saying there are too many elephants. But unfortunately, as Nassim Taleb explains in his book “the Black Swann”, the trouble is, we never know how ignorant we are. So when exceptional events happen in an over-exploited world, it can seriously affect the remaining elephant populations. We may encounter a black swan but hope some rain will prove us wrong.

In the meantime, we will miss Titi.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

*If you find it is not objective to name elephants, read two paragraphs below and see what is worse: empathy or over-confident science.

A dead forest with no young trees.