Elephants are fascinating and highly intelligent creatures. Much like humans, they possess a sense of time, live long lives, and are capable of feeling strong emotions. It’s no wonder, then, that these gentle giants also mourn for their dead.
In this touching video captured by Safari Live, three young elephants grieve the recent loss of a fellow member of their herd by gathering around his body and engaging in behaviors associated with mourning. Included in these behaviors is the practice of “body-mounting,” when an elephant climbs atop the corpse of their friend or loved one.
They also engage in “back-toward,” which involves walking backward toward the carcass and touching it with a hind foot. There’s also “explore-touch-foot,” where the grieving elephant touches the body with its front or hind foot. Using their trunks, elephants in mourning engage in a similar behavior known as “explore-touch-trunk.” Finally, there’s a quiet contemplation known as “silence.”
The dead elephant in the video was between 25 and 30 years old at the time of his death, and was killed by a much larger bull. The 40-year-old bull responsible for the death was at the prime age for mating – a time when male elephants are prone to becoming especially aggressive.
Although these mourning behaviors sometimes occur between living elephants, they’re more pronounced with an elephant who has passed away. Researchers are trying to learn if these practices are culturally transmitted.
Seeing such evidence of deep sorrow and grief among elephants should remind us that their lives are of value, and we must always strive to do no harm to these amazing creatures.