In recent weeks millions have watched a herd of 15 wild elephants embark on a long, strange trip out of the jungles of southwest China. Instead of staying where they were, they took to trekking in unfamiliar places – including in some sizable cities. Twitter and YouTube have become clogged with clips of their various antics, especially the babies, the latest media darlings not only at home, in China, but abroad.
Meantime, the experts have been baffled. Why would this herd do that? Normally elephants stay close to where they are: on or around their home ranges, turf they know. So, their behavior in this case is a departure.
Which is why so much speculation about the explanation. Search for a new habitat? A freshly developed taste for corn or other delectable, normally unavailable crops?
Or is it perhaps something altogether different? Is it a failure of leadership? Did the leader of the herd just get lost?
As a bit of a leadership expert myself, I cannot resist this theory. How could I take issue with Chen Mingyong, a professor at Yunnan University’s Asian Elephant Research Center, who says it could well be that the “lead elephant lacks experience” and, therefore, “led the whole group astray.”
Sound familiar? Far be it from me to anthropomorphize elephants! But who can deny that inexperienced leaders leading their followers astray is a behavior with which we, we humans, have had extensive experience?!