Elephants are considered gentle giants. These mammals are one of the few animals capable of displaying emotions, empathy and emotional intelligence.
Their complex elephant behavior allows them to understand each other’s feelings. The other living species that have been recorded to be able to do this are dolphins, chimpanzees and humans.
In celebration of Valentine’s Day around the corner, our elephant conservation in zoos team wants to share with you how elephants show their affection towards each other.
Why are elephants empathic?
As humans, we have the ability to be empathic. Did you know that some animals are also capable? It is recorded that elephants are one of the world's most empathetic animals.
To have empathy means to have the ability to sense others' emotions and understand what they are feeling. Researchers have discovered that elephants are able to recognize and respond to other elephants' pain and problems.
How elephants show affection
When humans get scared or distressed, we tend to comfort each other with touch or a hug. Elephant behavior is no different. Although elephants are some of the largest mammals, they still get scared or distressed.
When these animals become distressed, their ears go out and they emit a low-frequency sound. Members of their herd will hear this cry and go to comfort them by stroking their trunks on another’s mouth. Researchers discovered this after studying 26 Asian elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Tang district of Chiang Mai Province, Thailand.
In the wild, elephants live in herds. These herds are family units that consist of the matriarch elephants, her daughters and offspring. When the calves (baby elephants) reach a certain age, they go into two different paths. The elephant cows (females) stay with their mother’s herd and take care of the young. On the other hand, elephant bulls (males) go off on their own or connect with a small group of male elephants.
There have been times when elephants leave their mother’s herds to create their own herds. Although they still stay connected and form a bond group. This group is the second tier of relationship in the elephant society. When these elephants see each other in the wild, they will socialize with each other. Aside from their families, there have been reports that elephants make friends.
Another way that elephants show affection towards each other is through vocalizations. Elephants are able to share their emotions with other elephants through various different sounds they can produce. These large mammals make trumpeting, rumbling, roaring, chirps and squeaking sounds.
Mother elephants show affection and care for their calves through soft and soothing rumbles. The low rumble sounds are used to greet and bond with one another. Elephants produce trumpet sounds to express their happiness, anger and even grief of a loved one dying.
Support elephant conservation in zoos!
Elephants are one of the most loving creatures. However, they need your love and support to avoid captive extinction. Currently, zoo elephants are not self-sufficient because of high infertility rates. We need your help to continue our research to help zoo elephants across the United States. Join our “Herd of Heroes” to make a monthly donation to our research.