Animal rituals and elephant evolution

Elephant researcher Caitlin O'Connell on "Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us About Connection, Community, and ourselves" and tuskless elephant evolution.

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Humans aren’t the only animals that use rituals to connect and bond. Elephant researcher CAITLIN O’CONNELL has spent 30 years studying wild elephants in Namibia, observing their complex behavior, and has seen many similarities to our own interactions.

In her new book, Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us About Connection, Community, and Ourselves, O’Connell explores rituals in the animal world around mating, greeting, grieving, and playing, highlighting examples from elephants, wolves, flamingos, whales and even tortoises. She joins us to talk about the important role rituals play in non-human animals and to remind us that, even during a pandemic, they remain essential to our social lives.

But first, we talk with Princeton University evolutionary biologist SHANE CAMPBELL-STATON about his research showing that pressure from Ivory poaching drove African elephants to be born tuskless and what it tells us about the influence of human activity on the speed of evolution.


Shane Campbell-Staton, assistant professor in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Princeton University who studies human-driven evolution.

Caitlin O’Connell, behavioral ecologist and elephant researcher. She is the author Wild Rituals: 10 Lessons Animals Can Teach Us About Connection, Community, and Ourselves and is on the faculty at the Eaton Peabody Lab at Harvard Medical School. @elephantskinny

Recommended reading

Science, Ivory poaching and the rapid evolution of tusklessness in African elephants

Atlantic Monthly, African Elephants Evolved Tusklessness Amazingly Fast: but at what cost?

Scientific American, Play Is Serious Business for Elephants

The Washington Post, In the animal kingdom, rituals that connect, renew and heal

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