Author Archives: Rebecca Winkler

A dark grey female Asian elephant standing in a forest raising trunk in the air, partially obscured by branches at the foreground of the shot.

Gazing into the Eyes of Elephants: Unsettling Recognition in Multispecies Relations

“Do the elephants recognize you?” I am asked some version of this question by most people who find out my work has involved multiyear relations with elephants in Thailand. The short answer is yes, but not in the ways that most people think when they ask about recognition. I know that the elephants recognize me because they ignore me, because my presence in their space does not perturb them; the absence of a reaction, what might be interpreted as indifference, is how I know that I am familiar to them. People find this response disappointing. The ways that elephants express recognition do not seem to be legible to people as recognition. I think what people expect, or perhaps hope to hear, is a picture of recognition that aligns more with certain anthropocentric and often commodified forms of human-elephant interaction. (read more...)