How did animals that fought alongside humans (horses, elephants…) not panic when seeing all those members of their species dying, while getting poked with spears and shot with arrows?



I always wondered. Because you would assume that horses just try to get the person off of it and run away. And how did something like the war elephant not just trample anyone to death? They are such smart animals and I’m sure they felt something by the sight of that. If I was a foot soldier I wouldn’t feel so great if there was some giant, armored, living tank berzerking around… Even if they supposedly are on “my side”.

In: Biology

Training. Tourture. However you want to see it. They spent alot of time forcing/gaining the animals trust. Running them full speed into trees and stuff like that.

I’m sure that played a big part in it. But at some point, all of those animals must have experienced it for the first time, right? What was that “shock” moment like?

They’re intensely conditioned. Horses, for examples, are easily frightened animals. To condition them to a battlefield you’d (probably) do something like start them out easily. Make the loud noises they’re expected to hear next to them so they get used to them. Place some dummies on the ground in the style of corpses and have it walk around them so they get used to that. And so on.

But animals still frequently panicked. Elephants in particular were (in)famous for how frequently they’d panic and turn around to trample their own army. Remember reading that part of the job of an elephant rider was to be prepared to execute it with something like a nail and hammer to the head in case it panicked. Don’t know how true that was, but it sounds very plausible.

The rider on a war elephant had a hammer and chisel which he would use on the elephants head of it turned in the wrong direction and killed that sides troops

War animals do become desensitized to noise through training

It’s an interesting question. Aside from the “conditioning” responses, I wonder how much is also something along the lines of “loyalty.”

Animals in nature do fight, and fight for each other – sometimes to the death when running away may seem like the most logical choice. Reasons vary too, for survival, for dominance, for the pack. So it doesn’t seem too far fetched that for some animals like horses, dogs, etc. they may have a sense of “team” and once the training / conditioning is set – they are willing participants with some sense of what is going on.