Accepted Paper:

The limits of care: elephant wellbeing and Herpes in times of extinction  

Authors:

Ursula Münster (Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, University of Oslo)
Celia Lowe (University of Washington)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents three stories of elephant care in times of extinction to remind us that human management and care-work have only limited power to secure the future wellbeing of valued life forms.

Paper long abstract:

Across the world, Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) is increasingly killing elephant calves and threatening the long term survival of the Asian elephant, a species that is currently facing extinction. This paper presents three open-ended stories of elephant care in times of death and loss: at places of confinement and elephant suffering like the zoos in Seattle and Zürich, as well as in South India, where the country's last free-ranging elephants live. Our ethnographies of deadly viral-elephant-human becomings remind us that neither human care, work, love, and attentiveness, nor techniques of control and creative management are sufficient to fully secure elephant health and wellbeing. The paper introduces the concept of the "viral creep" to explore the ability of a creeping, only partially knowable, virus to rearrange relations among people, animals, and objects despite multiple experimental human regimes of care, governance, and organization. The "viral creep" exceeds the physical and intellectual contexts of human interpretation and control. It reminds us that uncertainty and modes of imagining are always involved when humans care and work for the wellbeing of other living beings and thereby make sense of the word around them.

Panel P122
Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]