Monday, July 19, 2010

Elephants and children with disabilities

I just watched an amazing National Geographic documentary film, entitled "Smiling Dogs, Crying Chimpanzees", about mammals and emotions.

One segment dealt with a pack of elephants with a focus on a 50 year old matriarch called Echo. She had just given birth and the film crew were excited to have a newborn cub as its subject.

But they soon realized that footage would not be uplifting. The cub was unable to straighten its front legs and it could move only by crawling on its knees. The crew predicted that this situation would soon render the skin on his knees raw, infection would then set in and the result would be a slow and painful death.

The pack of elephants could not stay with Echo and her cub for long and eventually proceeded without them. The cub's sibling, however, was torn. She only followed the pack after it was well on its way and she periodically turned around to her mother and brother. Then when her baby brother emitted complaining sounds she left the pack and ran back to her family. The three spent about two days proceeding at an excruciatingly slow pace. Echo and her daughter would take several steps then stop and wait for the crawling cub to catch up.

On the third day, the cub began to exercise his disabled front legs. He rocked back and forth on the hoofs straightening out the knees. After repeating that for a while he managed to stand erect for the first time. His legs were very wobbly, though, and he soon flopped back down. But he practiced standing himself up many times and eventually managed to walk on all four.

The commentator concluded that Echo, an experienced mother, understood that her cub just needed time and patience in order to overcome its developmental delay.

Can elephants teach humans a thing or two about raising disabled children?

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