Decolonizing Human-Animal Relations in an African Context: The Story of the Mourning Elephants

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In 2012, elephants from two separate herds walked about twelve hours to hold what seemed to be a vigil for their deceased rescuer, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony. Their story was met with reactions varying from intrigue to disbelief, as standing ideas on non-human animals forbid us to think they might outdo humans in their capacity to sense the death of a close one, even across species-boundaries.
In my chapter this story will be the starting point to critically adress Western dominated philosophical views of human-animal relations, and explore it for its potential for a new philosophical environmentalism starting from an African context. The story holds several important elements that will be analyzed consecutively and will provide arguments for decolonized human-animal relations.
First: the elephants’ behavior has to be understood in the historical context of troubled human-elephant encounters, as well as land dispossession in (neo-)colonial contexts.
Second: their ‘family relationship’ to the person who granted them asylum in his private nature reserve asks us to transcend the ‘colonial’ othering of non-human animals.
Third: the elephants’ potential to sense the dying of a ‘relative’ invites us to acknowledge distant ‘feeling’ perception, which is acknowledged in traditional, ‘shamanistic’ epistemologies.
All three elements lead to understanding and accepting human perception and agency to be continuous with that of non-human animals rather than radically different. This chapter will make use of multi- and inter-disciplinary decolonizing approaches (Bamana, Kohn, Murombedzi, Plumwood).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAfrican Environmental Ethics
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Reader
EditorsMunamato Chemhuru
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9783030188078
ISBN (Print)9783030188061, 9783030188092
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameInternational Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics
ISSN (Print)1570-3010
ISSN (Electronic)2215-1737


  • African Philosophy
  • Environmental Philosophy
  • Human-Animal Relations


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