Do Elephants Grieve? New Video Suggests They Do

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Do elephants think about death? Safari Live cameras filmed three young elephants gathering around an elephant carcass. They show what researchers have regularly seen in a similar context: elephants expressing grief or mourning.

Elephant behaviour expert Joyce Poole of ElephantVoices explains some of these signs of grief: “Body-mounting,” in which they climb on the carcass; "Back-toward:” they walk backwards towards the body and often touch it with the hindfoot; "Explore-Touch-Foot:” to touch the body with the forefoot and/or hindfoot; “Explore-touch-trunk:” touch and/or explore the body with the trunk; and, "silence:” a quiet contemplation.

These behaviours do happen in other situations, but not as regularly as with a dead body. Whether elephants culturally transmit and learn these actions is part of an ongoing study.