We Can Learn a Good Deal About Young Men and the Violent Crimes They Commit…From the Elephants

I came across a fascinating article recently that summarized something we virtually all know to be true – that fatherless homes and the cultures that abide and/or errantly celebrate this growing epidemic, will become more and more violence ridden by young men acting recklessly and foolishly with other peoples’ lives.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Some years ago, officials at the Kruger National Park and game reserve in South Africa were faced with a growing elephant problem. The population of African elephants, once endangered, had grown larger than the park could sustain. So measures had to be taken to thin the ranks. A plan was devised to relocate some of the elephants to other African game reserves. Being enormous creatures, elephants are not easily transported. So a special harness was created to air-lift the elephants and fly them out of the park using helicopters.

The helicopters were up to the task, but, as it turned out, the harness wasn’t. It could handle the juvenile and adult female elephants, but not the huge African bull elephants. A quick solution had to be found, so a decision was made to leave the much larger bulls at Kruger and relocate only some of the female elephants and juvenile males.

The problem was solved. The herd was thinned out, and all was well at Kruger National Park. Sometime later, however, a strange problem surfaced at South Africa’s other game reserve, Pilanesburg National Park, the younger elephants’ new home.

Rangers at Pilanesburg began finding the dead bodies of endangered white rhinoceros. At first, poachers were suspected, but the huge rhinos had not died of gunshot wounds, and their precious horns were left intact. The rhinos appeared to be killed violently, with deep puncture wounds. Not much in the wild can kill a rhino, so rangers set up hidden cameras throughout the park.

The result was shocking. The culprits turned out to be marauding bands of aggressive juvenile male elephants, the very elephants relocated from Kruger National Park a few years earlier. The young males were caught on camera chasing down the rhinos, knocking them over, and stomping and goring them to death with their tusks. The juvenile elephants were terrorizing other animals in the park as well. Such behavior was very rare among elephants. Something had gone terribly wrong.

Some of the park rangers settled on a theory. What had been missing from the relocated herd was the presence of the large dominant bulls that remained at Kruger. In natural circumstances, the adult bulls provide modeling behaviors for younger elephants, keeping them in line.

Juvenile male elephants, Dr. Horn pointed out, experience “musth,” a state of frenzy triggered by mating season and increases in testosterone. Normally, dominant bulls manage and contain the testosterone-induced frenzy in the younger males. Left without elephant modeling, the rangers theorized, the younger elephants were missing the civilizing influence of their elders as nature and pachyderm protocol intended.

To test the theory, the rangers constructed a bigger and stronger harness, then flew in some of the older bulls left behind at Kruger. Within weeks, the bizarre and violent behavior of the juvenile elephants stopped completely. The older bulls let them know that their behaviors were not elephant-like at all. In a short time, the younger elephants were following the older and more dominant bulls around while learning how to be elephants.


In his terrific article, “Of Elephants and Men,” Dr. Wade Horn went on to write of a story very similar to that of the elephants, though it happened not in Africa, but in New York’s Central Park. The story involved young men, not young elephants, but the details were eerily close. Groups of young men were caught on camera sexually harassing and robbing women and victimizing others in the park. Their herd mentality created a sort of frenzy that was both brazen and contagious. In broad daylight, they seemed to compete with each other, even laughing and mugging for the cameras as they assaulted and robbed passersby. It was not, in any sense of the term, the behavior of civilized men.

Appalled by these assaults, citizens demanded a stronger and more aggressive police presence. Dr. Horn asked a more probing question. “Where have all the fathers gone?” Simply increasing the presence of police everywhere a crime is possible might assuage some political pressure, but it does little to identify and solve the real social problem behind the brazen Central Park assaults. It was the very same problem that victimized rhinos in that park in Africa. The majority of the young men hanging around committing those crimes in Central Park grew up in homes without fathers present.

That is not an excuse. It is a social problem that has a direct correlation with their criminal behavior. They were not acting like men because their only experience of modeling the behaviors of men had been taught by their peers and not by their fathers. Those who did have fathers had absent fathers, clearly preoccupied with something other than being role models for their sons. Wherever those fathers were, they were not in Central Park.

Dr. Horn pointed out that simply replacing fathers with more police isn’t a solution. No matter how many police are hired and trained, they will quickly be outnumbered if they assume the task of both investigating crime and preventing crime. They will quickly be outnumbered because presently in our culture, two out of every five young men are raised in fatherless homes, and that disparity is growing faster as traditional family systems break down throughout the Western world.

Real men protect the vulnerable, not assault them. Growing up having learned that most basic tenet of manhood is the job of fathers, not the police. Dr. Horn cited a quote from a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan written some forty years ago:

“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th Century Eastern Seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken homes, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations for the future – that community asks for and gets chaos.”

In my opinion, Daniel Patrick Moynihan gets it right in the paragraph above. And, there simply isn’t a police solution or a government solution; this is a social problem start to finish, and therefore requires a social solution. But, it’s always curious to me when this subject is discussed in the media, as the conversation often turns to a discussion about our prison systems or the need to somehow create more government programs to stem the tide of this violence. Really? Is someone arguing that prison sentences don’t work, because the recidivism rate is hovering around 50 percent in many places? Prison is a punishment.

And, if prison doesn’t create the fairly tale by-product of “a rehabilitated and upstanding citizen” should we consider the paradigm broken or in need of replacement? I’d suggest the issue of recidivism argues for longer prison terms if only the cost of housing these criminals weren’t so unsustainably high. Other than punishment, isn’t the purpose of prison to confine an individual who  simply cannot be trusted to refrain from violence out in the real world?

If the issue of wide-swept fatherless homes is clearly the causal mechanism in these cases – like the elephants in the article link shared above – what is society going to do about it?

I’d offer a sober realization – society is unlikely to ever create the kind of norms required to address this problem effectively for fear we might offend someone. Yes, political correctness gone astray will continue to erode our civilization.

And predictably, the sub-cultures and sub-sets of people with the loudest voices in support of more political correctness and more enabling and far fewer social constructs are the same people who are already enslaved by (or perhaps addicted to) the massive and growing social pivot away from what some would call social rules. It’s a tragedy that they simply don’t see it.

I’m not arguing for a totalitarian state or some version of an ultra- conservative social blueprint, but I am making the common sense argument that the new ‘social norms’ responsible for mayhem in our society should not be embraced. Here’s a news flash – we all feel infringed upon in some respects, because we all have to live with and amongst each other, and this requires some capitulation to the mean.

Personal freedom demands personal responsibility to facilitate and elevate civilization. This is a critical point that has been lost on at least two generations. And, when people contemplate abandoning personal responsibility, there simply ought to be a clear social disincentive – not an enabling culture that accepts whatever choices are made despite the cost to the rest of us.

As for me, I’ll hold out some small hope that the social norms will change for the better, but I’ll train knowing these “young elephants” are out there menacing good people and prepare to illustrate my extreme displeasure with their violent behavior should ever our paths cross. What will you do?

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  1. Stuart

    LBJ’s Great Society experiment is in full bloom and it is downright ugly. His attempt to coddle the lower classes with free money for going fatherless and even more money for mother’s having more children, without husbands around, has reached the third generation of such fatherless, uncontrollable youth.

    Public schooling, escalating minimum wage laws and the encouragement of fatherless families, were all things intensified under LBJ’s “Great Society” program and “War on Poverty.” They have made for a mad cocktail of out of control kids.

    What is society going to do about it?

    It is time to ditch government “help” in the raising of children, that needs to be returned to the private charity level and the family level. Further, minimum wage laws need to be abolished so these kids can get jobs and learn basic skills. Otherwise, LBJ’s great grandkids will be toting more guns and we will all end up ducking for cover, from time to time.