Elephants and Their Dead

The tales about elephants mourning their dead may have validity. In a new, first of its kind meta-analysis, the results appear to confirm the folklore surrounding elephants and their dead.  The study consisted of a literature review of 32 original observations of wild elephant carcasses from 12 distinct sources across Africa. The findings indicate that “elephants exhibit a generalized interest in their dead, even after bodies have long decayed — and even if the elephants studied were not closely bonded to the dead individual. The most common behaviors observed were approaching the dead, touching and examining the carcass. Elephants also appeared to use their advanced sense of smell to identify dead individuals, and they were observed vocalizing and attempting to lift or pull fallen elephants that had just died.”

Elephants have been documented as having close bonds with members of their social groups. They  “form lasting relationships over decades, and individuals maintain different types of relationships across populations. They live in socially complex, fission-fusion societies, in which social groups divide and merge over time. These complex relationships necessitate recognizing and remembering a wide range of individuals in their species. Not surprisingly, elephants have demonstrated notable cognitive abilities, extensive memory and highly sophisticated olfaction.”   source


Journal Reference: Shifra Z. Goldenberg, George Wittemyer. Elephant behavior toward the dead: A review and insights from field observations. Primates, 2019; 61 (1): 119. DOI: 10.1007/s10329-019-00766-5