Mother elephant holding dead baby for weeks

Do elephants have a way to treat their fellow humans when they die the way humans do? This question remains unanswered, but a new study shows evidence that elephants also have a way of expressing their affection for their dead fellow.

Study co-authors Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel of the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and Nachiketha Sharma of the Institute for Advanced Study of Kyoto University, Japan write:Understanding elephants’ responses to death could have some far-reaching implications for their conservation. We have observed that, when people witness how an elephant reacts to a deceased relative, they exhibit some feelings of relatedness, compassion and empathy.”

Mother elephant holds her dead baby for weeks - 1

Mother elephant cuddles baby elephant.

Funeral Rituals of Elephants

African bush elephants (Loxodonta africana) have long been observed to react very emotionally when a member of a herd dies. They can come close to the dead body and touch it with their trunks or stand nearby as if they were on guard. Asian elephants tend to live in forests, so they are harder to observe in the wild than African elephants.

Pokharel, Sharma and co-author Raman Sukumar, all from the Institute Science India searched the site for keywords related to Asian elephants and death, and discovered 39 videos of 24 cases between 2010 and 2021 in which one or more Asian elephants were sighted. reacting to the loss of a pack mate. 80% of the videos show wild elephants, 16% captive elephants and 4% semi-captive elephants (typically, semi-captive elephants are animals that work in the timber industry or in tourist parks in Asia) .

Some of the most striking behavior seen in the video is when a baby elephant dies. Five of the 12 videos show a dead baby elephant, with an adult elephant – possibly the mother – seen holding the baby elephant. Based on the state of decomposition of the corpse, this behavior can be seen to go on for days or weeks.

Indian ranger Parveen Kaswan posted one such video in 2019, showing an Asian elephant dragging the carcass of a baby elephant across the street in a Twitter post.

Other common elephant reactions seen in the video include restlessness near a carcass; exploratory actions such as touch and smell. Elephants communicate through scent, so the smell is not surprising. In 10 cases, the elephants attempted to lift, nudge or shake their bodies, as if trying to revive a lost species.

This phenomenon has been seen in the past when zoos kill elderly elephants due to illness or infirmity, the staff will give the members of the herd a chance to say goodbye. Surviving elephants often come to smell the dead elephant or use its mouth to lick other animals.

In a study published May 18 in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Pokharel, Sharma and Sukumar wrote about a mother elephant holding a dead baby elephant for days or even weeks. This action is similar to that of apes, monkeys. Mother gibbons and mother monkeys sometimes cuddle with their dead cubs for weeks or months.

Several YouTube videos have provided evidence that some animals may have some special feelings about the death of their fellow human beings and express their affection for their dead fellow humans similar to humans. .

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