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  #1  
Old 05-19-2010, 05:41 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Do elephants really "mourn" their dead?

I've been meaning to ask about this since the most recent elephant death at the Toronto Zoo in November (the third in two years, actually). This article about the death of matriarchal elephant 'Tara' wasn't the only one I saw at that time which included statements such as the surviving elephants having a "grieving period" and that they "were given time alone with Tara's body . . . to mourn their loss".

Is this concept of elephants "grieving" and "mourning" anything more than teleological projection of human emotion onto animal behaviour? Or, has it been validated in some way (although, I'm not even sure how that could be done).
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  #2  
Old 05-19-2010, 05:59 PM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Linky.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Daily Mail
Over the next week, at least a dozen elephants, including her six-month-old calf, visited her grave. While her best friend, an adult elephant called Maya, was one of the first to pay her respects, members of four other families, including elephants who barely knew her, made the pilgrimage. The first elephant on the scene, a loose acquaintance called Maui, stood over her body and rocked to and fro. Others touched her with their trunks - a 'kiss' more usually given to their friends and relatives.

The most touching reaction was that of Eleanor's calf, who nuzzled her mother's carcass in bewilderment. Sadly, the calf did not survive much longer, dying around three months later after the other females refused to suckle her, the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science reports.

The researchers said it was clear that the creatures are capable of showing compassion. And, unlike humans, their capacity for empathy for the sick and dead extends past those closest to them.
It's obvious that elephants exhibit behavior that we label as being fueled by grief but whether this is actually so is hard to say. What? The elephants are capable of extending incredible compassion to dead individuals they didn't even know but lack the compassion to suckle the orphaned child? The elephants might not understand the death of their comrades (I've had rats die before and their mates would continue to mount their carcasses. Granted, elephants are more intelligent than rats); perhaps they're investigating? I'm not an elephant expert so I'm not equipped to offer more than that (uneducated) guess. But my quick search didn't reveal anyone who thought that these elephants weren't grieving so it seems most people are convinced that these are genuine displays.
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  #3  
Old 05-19-2010, 06:04 PM
psycat90 psycat90 is offline
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I read this great article in the NYT a few years ago that suggested they do indeed.

An Elephant Crackup?

Quote:
When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skullís lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting.
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Old 05-19-2010, 06:08 PM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Good find, psycat90. That sounds pretty cool.
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  #5  
Old 05-19-2010, 06:11 PM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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I saw a documentary ages ago that followed a herd of African elephants for a year or something. At one point they came across the bones of an elephant - completely unconnected to that herd - and lined up to walk past the bones, stroking them with their trunks.
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Old 05-19-2010, 06:16 PM
Sampiro Sampiro is online now
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Any theories on why the cub was abandoned? Is this usual? I've read that elephants suckle for years- perhaps this is why.

Also, wouldn't it have been possible to bottle nurse the infant? A really big bottled admittedly, but surely something is available.

I live in Montgomery, Alabama where our zoo has had deaths of mother and calf in childbirth as well in recent years.
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  #7  
Old 05-19-2010, 06:19 PM
AClockworkMelon AClockworkMelon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro View Post
Any theories on why the cub was abandoned? Is this usual? I've read that elephants suckle for years- perhaps this is why.

Also, wouldn't it have been possible to bottle nurse the infant? A really big bottled admittedly, but surely something is available.

I live in Montgomery, Alabama where our zoo has had deaths of mother and calf in childbirth as well in recent years.
The story I linked to didn't take place in a zoo. Researchers typically make it a point not to interfere with nature as they observe animals in the wild (remember how all the fans of Meerkat Manor lost their shit when the researchers didn't rescue one of their precious babies from a snake or whatever?).
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Old 05-19-2010, 07:06 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is online now
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Originally Posted by jjimm View Post
I saw a documentary ages ago that followed a herd of African elephants for a year or something. At one point they came across the bones of an elephant - completely unconnected to that herd - and lined up to walk past the bones, stroking them with their trunks.
I saw the same documentary, or at least one that included a similar scene.
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  #9  
Old 05-20-2010, 08:21 AM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Thanks to all (and terrific links, by the way).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Clockwork
"It's obvious that elephants exhibit behavior that we label as being fueled by grief but whether this is actually so is hard to say. What? The elephants are capable of extending incredible compassion to dead individuals they didn't even know but lack the compassion to suckle the orphaned child? "
You make an interesting point. But that's the thing about emotional responses - they often don't make sense from a logical perspective

In any case, your wording is critical "behavior we label as being fueled by grief . . . " I think that's the best we can do - admit that this is just our take on their behavior and not claim it represents 'genuine' grief (or whatever emotion we've projected).
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  #10  
Old 05-20-2010, 04:44 PM
Autolycus Autolycus is offline
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I guess elephants really never do forget.
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  #11  
Old 05-20-2010, 10:45 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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Here's a really cool video about an elephant and her canine "best friend." Watch this and you will have no doubt that elephants are capable of deep emotional attachment.
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  #12  
Old 05-21-2010, 12:03 AM
GameHat GameHat is offline
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Originally Posted by spoke- View Post
Here's a really cool video about an elephant and her canine "best friend." Watch this and you will have no doubt that elephants are capable of deep emotional attachment.
Damn, that is some seriously lame "news"

I'm still tearing up. The actual story is great. The "news" part of it is complete shit, but damn -

The dog letting the elephant stroke its belly with her foot? *sob*. That's just so...sweet. The elephant keeping a vigil over the injured dog? *cry*
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  #13  
Old 05-21-2010, 12:21 AM
Rhythmdvl Rhythmdvl is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sampiro View Post
Any theories on why the cub was abandoned? Is this usual? I've read that elephants suckle for years- perhaps this is why.

Also, wouldn't it have been possible to bottle nurse the infant? A really big bottled admittedly, but surely something is available.

I live in Montgomery, Alabama where our zoo has had deaths of mother and calf in childbirth as well in recent years.
Researcher #1: You go milk the elephant.

Researcher #2: No, you go milk the elephant!

Researcher #1: Let's get Mikey.

Researcher #2: Yeah, let's get that rat bastard. He hates everything. Get's on my nerves that one.

Researcher #1: He's milking it! Hey Mikey! Hey... hey.... HEY MIKEY!!! GET OUT!!!!

Researcher #2: ...

Researcher #1: You write to Mikey's parents...
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  #14  
Old 05-21-2010, 11:26 AM
moldybread moldybread is offline
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Heres a great video. It shows a baby elephant that fell into some water. Watch what the family does to rescue it. It's really quite amazing to hear the frantic calls and see the cooperation to save the calf.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUK92...eature=related
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  #15  
Old 05-21-2010, 12:10 PM
Anaamika Anaamika is offline
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There are lots of creatures that 'mourn'. There is a species of lizard, I am blanking on the name right now, that is the only lizard that mates for life. They are very slow movers and sometimes one of the mates gets run down in the road. The other lizard will sit by its side, sometimes for days, nudging the body.

And that is a lizard. Elephants are on a whole other order.
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  #16  
Old 05-21-2010, 12:59 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
It's obvious that elephants exhibit behavior that we label as being fueled by grief but whether this is actually so is hard to say. What? The elephants are capable of extending incredible compassion to dead individuals they didn't even know but lack the compassion to suckle the orphaned child? The elephants might not understand the death of their comrades (I've had rats die before and their mates would continue to mount their carcasses. Granted, elephants are more intelligent than rats); perhaps they're investigating? I'm not an elephant expert so I'm not equipped to offer more than that (uneducated) guess. But my quick search didn't reveal anyone who thought that these elephants weren't grieving so it seems most people are convinced that these are genuine displays.
Humans have had practices of burying living relatives with the dead or even burning widows on the dead husband's funeral pyre. The latter practice is still done sometimes in India.

So... yes, it's certainly possible that genuine grief can be mixed with a total lack of compassion for the living.

The best non-grief explanation I've heard offered is that elephants continue to recognize the scent of another elephant on the bones and that the response may be misplaced greetings, curiosity, protective instincts, etc. rather than what people would really call grief.
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  #17  
Old 05-21-2010, 02:00 PM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AClockworkMelon View Post
but lack the compassion to suckle the orphaned child?
Is it compassion or resource management? Can a lactating female elephant, if there even are any in the herd, provide enough nourishment to bring two calves to healthy adulthood? Would even trying to simply doom both calves instead of one?
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  #18  
Old 05-21-2010, 06:10 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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It's not only elephants- I've sen docuemntary footgae of hipopotamuses standing watch over deceased herd members, prtotecting their bodies from hyenas and other scavengers who want to eat the carcasses.

One needn't believe animals are "just like us" to acknowledge they can have SOME kind of affection for each other, and are capable of some kind of grief (even if it's short-lived) for the loss of memebers of the family/pack.
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Old 05-21-2010, 07:18 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaamika View Post
There are lots of creatures that 'mourn'. There is a species of lizard, I am blanking on the name right now, that is the only lizard that mates for life. They are very slow movers and sometimes one of the mates gets run down in the road. The other lizard will sit by its side, sometimes for days, nudging the body.
I know you put mourn in quotes, but I don't think that's enough. There is no reason to assume that these lizards mourn anything. They may just be hardwired not to stray from their mates. "Mourn" implies an emotion.

Quote:
And that is a lizard. Elephants are on a whole other order.
Actually, a whole other Class. Mammalia vs Reptilia.
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  #20  
Old 05-22-2010, 11:57 AM
chappachula chappachula is offline
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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
There is no reason to assume that these lizards mourn anything. They may just be hardwired not to stray from their mates. "Mourn" implies an emotion.
This reminds me of a sappy news story I read 15 years ago about a dog's "loyalty". An elderly blind man was hospitalized (in Spain, I think)..,and left his faithful guide dog sitting outside the door to the hospital building, with the instructions to "stay". The man died in the hospital, and the dog remained alongside that door for years. (Hospital staff fed it, and tried to adopt it,but the dog spent all day sitting at the door, waiting for his master to return.)]
This was described in the story as a dog "grieving" and "mourning".
But it could also be described "a stupid dog who obeys orders unthinkingly and is incapable of any original thought or reacting to changed circumstances."

Elephants may be the same--they are hardwired that , say, a certain smell (of death) makes them want to linger,touch and absorb that smell. No emotions required.
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  #21  
Old 05-22-2010, 12:01 PM
Capt. Ridley's Shooting Party Capt. Ridley's Shooting Party is offline
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Sounds like Greyfriars Bobby.
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  #22  
Old 05-22-2010, 01:17 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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I don't get it. Why is the idea of animals forming emotional attachments and grieving death so hard to accept? Elephants and dogs are social animals, like humans. Why should we imagine that the emotion of grief is the exclusive province of humans?
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  #23  
Old 05-22-2010, 08:35 PM
foolsguinea foolsguinea is offline
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I guess the OP is a Cartesian?
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  #24  
Old 05-22-2010, 08:55 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by foolsguinea View Post
I guess the OP is a Cartesian?
You think I am? No, I think I am not.

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