Find out how elephants mourn.

How elephants mourn

Elephants aren’t only the largest land mammals, but they are also very intelligent and self-aware. These creatures are so self-aware and in tune with their emotions and surroundings that they are able to show different types of emotion. With elephants being endangered and on the brink of extinction, witnessing elephant deaths isn’t uncommon for the species. Our team wants to share with you how elephants mourn the dead and what emotions they show when grieving through our African elephant research.

How elephants mourn

Elephants show behaviors that can be rare to see in other animal species. Seeing an animal display behaviors such as grief can be a behavior that is particularly hard to see and takes being in the right place at the right time. 

Funeral ritual

Elephants take the funeral ritual very seriously. This ritual must be completed for an elephant to properly mourn and complete the grieving process. Elephants both in the wild and in zoos partake in this ritual. The ritual includes guarding, touching and investigating the carcass. The elephants performing this ritual take part in vocalizations. Two groups of elephants are created, one carries and holds the dead carcass while the other supports the dead by touching, nudging, making noise and sleeping against it. Elephants show protective behavior towards others who try to approach the dead.

Produce tears

When the death of another elephant occurs it is not uncommon to witness an elephant produce tears. Elephants are also known to tear up when stressed or excited.

Behavior change

Their behavior changes as well. They make low grumbles and high-pitched screams as a way to communicate. Elephants often isolate themselves from others and reject food when in the grieving process. Elephants form lifelong relationships and friendships that are so strong that they can even die of grief.

Mourn other species

Elephants have shown they have the ability to mourn other species and have done it with humans. For example, when Lawrence Anthony passed away elephants traveled miles to stand guard at his house to protect his body. Other than with elephants and humans, elephants haven’t been recorded to mourn or show signs of grief like any other species.

African elephant research

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