Elephants have proven to be some of the smartest land animals, able to figure out puzzles and comprehend human instructions without any training ahead of time. In addition to being very smart, they are very emotional creatures. They have shown to be very sensitive when disturbing events happen within their units. A recent study concluded that elephants are very compassionate and will comfort one another in times of suffering. This study was conducted by Joshua Plotnik and Frans de Waal and was published in PeerJ.
The fact that elephants express empathy shouldn’t amaze us too much, as they are very social and intelligent creatures. This means that having respect and companionship is a needed part of their family being successful. This is different from most other animals, excluding apes and dogs. While elephants comforting one another isn’t completely unprecedented, until now, most of the proof has been subjective.
Researched was conducted at an elephant reserve in Thailand, by Think Elephants International. In the daytime, the elephants were allowed plenty of free time to wander around and act naturally. The elephants were not related to each other and had no family ties to start with. The researchers looked after them, and wrote down anything that could be considered stressful. They did not design these situations to be stressful. They simply waited for them to naturally occur this way. This was useful in that it was more ethical and showed the team exactly what may cause distress in elephants and how they handle it.
There were different causes of the stress, but it generally arose when an uninvited animal came on the scene. This could be anything from a snake slithering to unfamiliar elephants coming nearby. The elephants behaved pretty much according to the way that researches thought they would. Elephants that were afraid began to stomp, flap their ears or make loud noises. What the researchers set out to determine next was how the other elephants responded to the elephant that was afraid.
They watched an adult female named Jokia. She heard the roar of a bull elephant at a different reserve. She felt threatened and she began raising her tail and twitching her ears. Another female adult elephant named Mae Per, noticed Jokia was in a state of worry. Although Mae Per wasn’t frightened, she began to follow suit and do some of the same things the other elephant did. What happened next was an act of compassion. Mae Perm placed her trunk into Jokia’s mouth to comfort her. Then, Jokia did the same thing, putting her trunk into Mae Perm’s mouth.
Scientists have called this response “emotional contagion.” They have not decided which of the two parties benefit from this action the most.