An international team of zoologists led by experts from the Smithsonian Institute for Conservation Biology has learned that elephants are protecting and trying to resurrect a dead relative. They published their observations in a journal article. Royal Society Open Science.
Researchers analyzed YouTube videos next to dead relatives of elephants. It turns out that they guard the corpses, drive people away and settle nearby to sleep, and apparently try to “wake up” the dead – pushing and shaking them or trying to lift them. Also the elephants roared loudly over the corpse. Also, many elephants touched the mouth and ears of the corpse with their trunks, possibly sniffing it. Scientists say that elephants use touch quite often in communication in general – they can often be seen walking with intertwined trunks.
Some females used their crates to carry their dead babies. This behavior is not unique to elephants – live cubs follow the herd on their own.
“This carrier may, by itself, indicate that they know there is something wrong with the offspring,” the researchers said.
It is not yet clear how aware elephants are of the concept of death. The authors of the paper hope that further observations will allow us to learn more about this and about the cognitive abilities of elephants in general.