Elephants – More Similar To Us Than We Thought?

A herd of elephants. Photo from Flickr 

We see elephants as intelligent and social creatures, akin to us humans. However, we may be even more similar than we initially thought. Here are some ways how elephants are basically larger humans.

Complex Family Structures

Elephants are known to have deep bonds between herd members of friends and family. Herds of male and female elephants are separated. The female herd is lead by an older matriarch, followed by her daughters and their calves. While looking for food and water, the other females of the herd will ensure protection of their children by completely surrounding them. Even if a calf is left alone when its mother dies, other mothers will take care for the calf like their own.

The male herd on the other hand is a group of males who live and travel together without a particular leader. When one wishes to mate, they will break off from the herd to find a female they wish to mate with. Once he has mated, he will return to his own herd and will have nothing to do with the rearing of their calf. While strange for humans, this ensures their bloodlines continue by mating with several females.

Elephants are sociable creatures like us. They value social interaction with other elephants as much as we do. When families break off (due to too many members or limited resources of food and water), occasionally they will meet up again on a favourite feeding spot with much joy and celebration on meeting one another.

Emotions

Elephants are one of the most expressive animals in the planet. They are known to show forms of happiness, anger, compassion and love. This is the reason why they value familial bonds very much.

Elephants can express joy in occasions as humans do. They show extreme happiness as the members of the family will trumpet to celebrate the birth of a calf. When meeting distant family members, they express their happiness just like us, by hugging, kissing as well as playing around, just in elephant form.

Adults protecting a calf. Photo from Flickr

Anger is not an emotion that we generally associate with these gentle giants. However, some young elephants show drastic mentality changes on seeing a family member’s murder from poaching. They exhibit violent tendencies towards humans and may attack villages. This is an increasing worry as the increasing population means more of the elephants’ habitats are taken up for living space. The recent increase in news covering elephants attacks are caused by violent poaching of these creatures. Elephants are intelligent. Some researchers speculate that a reason behind these changes in emotions may be due to the decades of suffering from killings and habitat loss. They suggest that elephants remember past incidents of violence and act upon it.

Elephants show a lot of compassion for their family members. Losing a family member may grief them for years to come. When coming across a place a member died, they are known to have a ‘moment of silence’, perhaps to pay respects or reminiscence past memories. One report was of an adult elephant trying to help a baby rhino stuck in the mud. Despite the mother’s persistent charges on her, she kept on trying to save the baby rhino disregarding her own safety. It really highlights how elephants experience various emotions and act a lot based on feelings rather than instincts like us humans.

In recent years, there were a lot of campaigns to stop elephants poaching. To some extent, they have done their deed. However, with the ever increasing population, it will be inevitable that elephants’ living space will be taken up. It is a shame that they develop violent emotions from our selfish doings. Wonder if it will be possible in the future to influence them to go back to the gentle and majestic creatures that we generally think of elephants?