Do Elephants Demonstrate Funeral Rites?

[I know this one is in GD. But I still would like to submit it to Cecil, if possible.]

Anyways, I know this one is going to sound far out. But one time, as a child, I was watching this TV program, on elephants. They mourn the dead, according to this account.

Or more specifically, I give you the whole description. When they are roaming thru the fields of Africa, they sometimes come across the bones of other deceased elephants. Then (the story went), they react with great distress. But then they do something totally unexpected. They start moving and scattering the bones about.

Imagine, something that serves no logical purpose. You could almost call this behavior, respect for the dead. Or if not that, at least some kind of funerary custom.

My question then is simple: Is this true (i.e., that they exhibit funeral rituals)? And does it prove they are more human than some people would like to admit (hence, my posting this in GD)?

And now, I await your replies:)

Anthropomorphism. If they do, in fact, mourn their dead, that doesn’t make them 'human". It makes them elephants. Since it is unlikely that the common ancestor of humans and elephants shared a sense of funerary rites, there is no reason to assume that modern elephants and modern humans approach the situation similarly.

So, there is an Elephants’ Graveyard?!

I have seen multipe documentaries that show elephants displaying what appears to be grief/respect/despondency, etc over a dead elephant’s corpse/bones. At times, the bones are rearranged or stuff like limbs or other ‘solids (grass clumps, rocks…)’ are placed on or around the site of the remains. One cite here

It would be far-fetched to call these behaviors ‘funeral rites’, to be sure, but there is a different type of emotion displayed by elephants (for the most part) when they come across a dead elephant.

I suggest highly a documtentary I watched a few days ago (on Netflix, fwiw) called “Elephants: Spies in the Herd”. The reserchers made up a number of fairly mobile remote cameras and placed them into what were disguised as artificial piles of elephant dung. Those ‘piles’ moved along with the herd recording various aspects of a herd’s ‘lifestyle’ unobtrusively. Neat little observation things, and they captured many different behaviors, including what happened when that particular herd came across a mostly rotten-away corpse of dead elephant. It showed what appeared to be (possible) reverence, curiousity and mourning/grief - can’t be certain as you can’t read the herd’s minds, of course. But there is seen to be definite ‘special’ feelings/behaviors and/or treatment of the dead elephant(s) remains, no doubt.

The show also showed how there area a wide range of human-like (but not necessarily human-derived, to make that distinction) behaviors that are more profound and distinct than many other mammals show. Love, joy, grief, maternal grouping for protection of newborns, etc. Elephants are unique, but that is just how I see them. They do have a different ‘response’ to their dead than most other mammals, though, it seems. Doesn’t rise to funerary rites, though, it would appear. Just different types of ‘respect’ (lack of better summarizing word) for their dead.

Thanks for the Netflix references, I’ll check it out. I’ve been reading books on animal cognition and am fascinated by the new science that’s developing around this topic.

One of the things that I find fascinating about the elephant funerary behavior is the fact that they can tell the difference between elephant bones and other species bones. Speculation is that it’s the smell. But I wonder how long a “species smell” sticks to a bone that’s out in the weather and sunbleached.

I don’t know if rites is the correct word. Elephant herds have been documented gathering around dead relatives to grieve/mourn.

There is evidence of chimpanzees showing this behavior. Probably other wild animals as well.

Gotta correct myself here - title of show is “Elephant : Spy in the herd”, not "spies as I stated. Googling the title also gives a number of other viewing resources, like youtube, etc, fwiw.

The show was made in 2003 (much to my surprise!), so more recent documentation is almost certainly out there somewhere. Just saying…

Female chimps will drag the dead bodies of their infants around with them for a few days, but then suddenly just drop it and walk away.

Yes. It’s called Africa.

That’'s an Afro-centric view of Elephantdom. :slight_smile:

BTW, Snopes rates the “Elephants Painting” thing as “Partly True.”

For what it’s worth, my mom was in Thailand recently and saw the painting elephants, and there was no pretext made that it was anything more than a clever trick: They didn’t hide the fact that each elephant only produces a single image taught to them by humans.

Elephants left to their own devices have been known to paint, and seem to enjoy the activity, but the paintings they produce on their own are completely abstract. It’s hard to say whether the result is in any sense “artistic”, or if the elephants just like making blotches of bright colors (or indeed, if there’s any difference between the two).

Regardless, the are very intelligent and highly social animals. We would be foolish beyond measure to cause them to go extinct.