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Old 18 March 2007, 03:19 PM
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Default Elephants rape rhinoceroses

I first encountered the story about elephants raping rhinoceroses when it was mentioned in an episode of the TV show "Boston Legal". A doctor was being tried for killing terminal patients at a New Orleans hospital in the immediate aftermath of Katrina and her attorney tried to liken the disorder of the hospital situation (no power, hence no
climate control or lighting; no communication) to the disorder faced by some young male elephants...I may be not doing his argument justice.

My thought was, "Really? Have elephants been inserting their penises into the vaginas or rectums of unwilling rhinoceroses?," - which is what rape suggests to me. I am skeptical - perhaps "sexual assualt" or "attempted rape" might better describe the behavior in question, if there's anything to this at all.

The elephant story was brought to a large audience by an article in the NY Times and I am trying to contact the author:

An Elephant Crackup?
New York Times Magazine, The (NY)
October 8, 2006
Author: Charles Siebert

Since the early 1990's, for example, young male elephants in
Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in "a number of reserves" in the region.

This excerpt seems to cite and paraphrase from the journal Pachyderm, which is available online [] but I have not found any mention of rape in that article.
African elephants, Loxodonta
africana Blumenbach, 1797, have been killing both
black (n = 5) and white rhinos (n = 58), mainly through
tusk wounds made to the shoulder and chest area. This
abnormal behaviour has been described from
a number of reserves but has mainly occurred
in Pilanesberg National Park (PNP), where
between 1992 and 1997 elephants killed up
to 50 white rhinos (Slotow and van Dyk
2001). The culprit elephants were young
males (17–25 years old) who were entering
a state of musth (heightened aggression from
elevated hormones associated with reproductive
competition—Poole and Moss 1981)
well ahead of schedule—from 18 years of
age as opposed to a normal age of 28 years
(Poole 1987)—and were doing so because
of the absence of an older male hierarchy
(Slotow et al. 2000).

I emailed the NY Times about this many days ago but have yet to hear back from them.

I have also tried to interest PZ Myers in this story, also without success.

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Old 18 March 2007, 07:30 PM
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Bonnie Bonnie is offline
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Hmm, that's very interesting, Larry. Have you tried e-mailing Rob Slotow, corresponding (and first) author of the paper in question, about this claim? I agree that there's no mention of sexual assault on rhinos in those pages, but he may be able to shed light on where The New York Times may (or may not) have heard about this (alleged) behavior.

It also might be worth a try contacting the Editor of Pachyderm for a comment regarding The Times's attribution of elephant-on-rhino "rape" to a study said to have appeared in a 2001 issue of the publication. Try, too, the Programme Officer of the African Elephant Specialist Group for a more general statement regarding these alleged assaults. seems to work for both individuals.

Good luck. Please let us know what you find out.

Bonnie "interestingly, Jacques Cousteau maintained that the same perverse process accounted for the begetting of the elusive whalephant" Taylor
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Old 18 March 2007, 08:11 PM
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geminilee geminilee is offline
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I do not know whether it is true or not, but interspecific sex is not unprecedented. And, if rape is about dominance for elephants in the same way it is for humans, it is not unbelievable. Elephants and rhinos have a long history of animosity towards each other.
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Old 18 March 2007, 10:19 PM
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Good suggestions. I am trying the icun email address first.
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Old 19 March 2007, 12:27 AM
Drama Queen Of Mars
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Found this video that seems to back up the elephant on rhino theory. I don't know where or when it was filmed...then again I'm not sure I want to know. Probably NSFW.

Drama ~I swear I thought she was hot!!!~ Queen

ETA: I just noticed the Animal Planet channel logo in the vid.
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Old 19 March 2007, 06:19 AM
Troberg Troberg is offline
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Just look at those slutty rhinos, they are practically asking for it. Going around naked in public like that.

I'm sure it can happen, there are probably some confused elephants out there, but a behaviour observed once is not necessarily something that applies to an entire population.
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Old 20 March 2007, 07:18 PM
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Received this email today and will follow up as suggested:

Dear Larry Roberts,

My understanding of the incidents that you describe is the same as yours i.e. no rapes occurred in the technical sense of the word. For final confirmation of this, I would recommend that you contact the authors of the paper in Pachyderm. ...

Best regards,

Leo Niskanen
Senior Programme Officer
IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group
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Old 23 March 2007, 12:49 AM
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Received this somewhat inconclusive email today from Rob Slotow, an author of the article in "Pachyderm" mentioned in my original post:

As far as I am aware, the elephants were killing the rhino in a number of reserves, but not raping them. I seem to recall some mention of one of the very young males (before he was mature and killing rhino) used to hang out with rhino, and there may have been some attempted mountings of the rhino (i.e. assuming the position) - I am not sure that it actually happened, but something is jiggling in the back of my mind as to tourist reports. It was before I was involved in the project there. However, there would not have been penetration, i.e. not true rape.


School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, George Campbell Building, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041, South Africa
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Old 23 March 2007, 02:15 PM
diddy diddy is offline
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Originally Posted by Troberg View Post
Just look at those slutty rhinos, they are practically asking for it. Going around naked in public like that.
You really can't blame the Rhinos, they're practically horny
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Old 25 March 2007, 06:53 PM
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Bonnie Bonnie is offline
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Thanks for providing updates, Larry.

The elephant story was brought to a large audience by an article in the NY Times and I am trying to contact the author
I assume you still haven't gotten a response from anyone at The Times and that your attempts to reach Mr. Siebert haven't borne fruit.

So, now we know that Slotow denies knowing of any incidents of elephant-rhino "rape" (i.e., forced intercourse) in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Not to mention that there was in fact, well, no mention of "rape" in his study.

I think, then, it's a little more incumbent on Mr. Siebert or someone at The New York Times to clarify and comment on the attribution of this factoid to a study appearing in Pachyderm. Have you tried contacting The Times as follows? (It would probably be helpful to include a pointer to Slotow's paper, in case you haven't already done so.)

The Times welcomes comments and suggestions, or complaints about errors that warrant correction. Messages on news coverage can be e-mailed to or left toll-free at 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397). ... Readers dissatisfied with a response or concerned about the paper's journalistic integrity may reach the public editor, Byron Calame, at or (212) 556-7652.
Bonnie "tusk, tusk" Taylor
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Old 25 March 2007, 07:03 PM
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Artemis Artemis is offline
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I've heard about this--the reason behind it was that as children, the elephants' mothers were killed for their tusks and they were chained to the dead bodies of their mothers. Can't find a cite for that yet, but that was how I heard the story originally...
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Old 06 April 2007, 07:25 AM
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I sent on to the New York Times the emails I got that at least cast doubt on the rape aspect of the Elephant/Rhinoceros story and received from them this reply:

Thanks for your message to our Reader Comment mailbox. Your e-mail will
reach the appropriate editor promptly. We are grateful to readers who
take the time to help us report thoroughly and accurately.

Ordinarily a comment about news coverage will receive a further reply.
And we do pay respectful attention to all messages, even those that are
part of organized letter-writing campaigns, for which we are not
staffed to reply individually. A correction generally takes two or three days
to appear on Page A2, after fact checking.
To my knowledge they have not published a correction - and I'll say again that I'm not certain their original story was incorrect.
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Old 27 August 2010, 08:12 PM
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I'm not familiar with Larry's story but I've seen something equally as strange. [Or it was to me.] My daughter bought two puppies, a Shiz-tsu and a Maltese, [please pardon mispelling.] The black and white Shiz-tsu came first and the white Maltese a couple of months later.

Everyone who saw him fell in love with Poet, the first puppy. When the Maltese, Satin, appeared on the scene his dominant side was immediately apparent. He would attack Poet when anyone paid attention to him even though he himself loved my daughter and "dogged" her every step. Living nearby, my daughter brought Poet and Satin to my house when she walked the neighbor's dogs or went shopping.

It wasn't long before this strange behavior began. Satin attacked Poet, mounted him and forced him to perform oral sex. Needless to say, I was profoundly shocked to see this taking place. I broke it up and scolded Satin. But it continued as long as both puppies were in the same room. At times I'd take Satin and isolate him in my bathroom. A few days later I called the Vet we'd used for years and he explained that it was normal behavior, that Satin was displaying dominence over Poet. In other words, showing who was "the boss" between the two.

I had never heard of such a thing before and I'm curious about other people and their puppies. I look forward to any replies.

Thank you.
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Old 31 August 2010, 05:01 PM
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AliBaba AliBaba is offline
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t wasn't long before this strange behavior began. Satin attacked Poet, mounted him and forced him to perform oral sex.
I know I'm going to hate myself for asking, but how does a dog "force" another dog to perform oral sex? I'm not being snarky, I just really can't picture it. Not that I, you know, want to.

Re: the OP, I'm a tad uncomfortable with the use of words like "rape" and "murder" in describing acts that take place within the animal kingdom. I know that animals will kill other animals for reasons other than food, and sometimes even kill others of their own species. But it bothers me because those words carry rather specific human connotations of intent. As opposed to animals following their instincts - to defend themselves or assert dominance.

IIRC, Jane Goodall did see some instances of chimpanzees actually murdering each other. But I have to wonder if that's a natural behavior or an aberration.

I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, maybe there are animals that are sociopaths or are just no damn good, but I have a hard time believing that.

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Old 31 August 2010, 05:10 PM
Ryda Wong, EBfCo. Ryda Wong, EBfCo. is offline
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Originally Posted by Uglyduckling View Post
Satin attacked Poet, mounted him and forced him to perform oral sex.
Thank you.
No offense intended, but this is a rather anthropomorphic interpretation of the behavior.

First of, the licking of genitals in animals isn't fraught with the same kind of associations we tend to put on the behavior in humans. It really isn't an intimate act, and it occurs in all sorts of situations.

Secondly, humping occurs often amongst dogs in all sorts of configurations, and head humping isn't at all uncommon. Since it's not a sexual behavior, it really doesn't matter where the humper humps the humpee.

Your daughter made a mistake in buying to puppies at once. That is NOT a smart thing to do, and it will make the dominance struggles between the two dogs much worse than if she had waited until one dog was grown before bringing in another dog. Also, if they aren't yet neutered, now is the time to do it.
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Old 31 August 2010, 07:49 PM
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Silas Sparkhammer Silas Sparkhammer is offline
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Cattle and dogs and other mammals are well-known for "mounting" activity, without necessarily going as far as penetration. I've seen bulls mount bulls, and cows mount cows. I've never seen it across species, although horses and cattle were in the same pastures.

Is penetration necessary for the word "rape" to be valid? What about (ick) forcible rubbing? Perhaps the proper term for what animals do is "sexual assault?"

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Old 31 August 2010, 08:05 PM
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geminilee geminilee is offline
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Ryda, I am not sure I agree that it is not a sexual behavior, although I would certainly agree that it is not only a sexual behavior. Evolution has obviously linked sex and power; that is why it is forced sex rather than forced feeding, or forced bathing, or any other activity. Animals lack the ability to conceptualize, they don't think about humiliating the enemy by forcing them to submit to sex. I don't think an animal could will themselves to erection and penetration if there were no sexual urges involved there. (Not to say there was penetration in this case, just generalizing)
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Old 31 August 2010, 08:49 PM
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A Turtle Named Mack A Turtle Named Mack is offline
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The problem I have with the claim is that rhinoceroses are every bit as strong as an elephant, better-armored, and come equipped with impressive weapons. Furthermore, they have horrible dispositions and are likely to charge anything moderately large near them – they are terribly near-sighted so they just see large fuzzy images and take them to be threats. In addition, I have seen a male rhino trying to mount am apparently receptive female, and even then it required what must be the largest penis of any land animal (If you have seen Walking Tall…). The only possible way I could see for an elephant-rhino coupling to occur is for the female to be completely receptive and cooperative, and be unable to recognize the difference. But then it would not be rape, just cross-species coupling.
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Old 31 August 2010, 08:55 PM
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Eddylizard Eddylizard is offline
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Would a male elephant part even fit inside a female rhino? (Sorry I tried several ways to phrase that delicately and probably failed.)
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Old 31 August 2010, 09:03 PM
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Tarquin Farquart Tarquin Farquart is offline
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Animals can't rape.
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