Eleven elephants were found dead at the base of Haew Narok Waterfall in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park after trying to save a three-year-old member of their herd who had drowned. With the number of elephants in the wild dwindling, this devastating loss is a large hit to the community.

Investigations began when a number of elephants hovering near the scene attracted attention. Initially, they thought just six elephants had perished in the dangerous waters, but drone monitoring of the area revealed that five more brave souls had lost their lives. Officials found two more elephants at the scene, who appeared to be trying to help, and rescued them.

Recent studies show that elephants experience a wide variety of emotions, including empathy, and develop strong bonds within their communities. When a member of the herd is in distress, the other elephants go out of their way to help the one in need and comfort those experiencing pain, fear, and anxiety. This sometimes manifests itself in vocalizations or by nuzzling the other elephant with their trunks. Elephants actively assist young, sick, or injured herd members with walking, stay with them as they pass, or protect them by enclosing them in a circle. They also experience grief and will stand by their deceased loved ones and cry out at their loss.

Their capacity to empathize with and mourn members of their herd makes this tragedy all the more heartbreaking, as one can only imagine what they must have felt in the moments leading up to their deaths. It is horrifying that these magnificent creatures are hunted for trophy items when they have such beautiful souls and the capacity to experience loss and empathy in ways that appear so similar to the way we as humans feel and grieve.

These brave elephants died as heros. May they rest in peace.