7 Times Elephants Demonstrated More Empathy Than The Humans Who Hunt Them

The ban on elephant trophies has been rolled back.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration quietly opted to make it legal to bring elephant body parts into the United States as trophies with permits. In December, a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration had not followed the necessary process to implement an elephant trophies ban, and so despite President Trump's pledge to support the ban, his administration rolled the ban back.

As reported by The Washington Post, the new rules imposed by the Trump administration state that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would allow sport hunters to receive permits for the trophy items on a "case-by-case basis."

Though hunting elephants is nothing new, as A Plus has previously reported, elephants are one of several species that demonstrate remarkable levels of intelligence and empathy. And, in light of a decision that could increase the number of elephants killed by human hunters, it seems worth taking stock.

As Virginia Morell wrote for National Geographic in 2014, "Research on elephants is full of examples of [elephants] apparently behaving empathetically—recognizing and responding to another elephant's pain or problem. Often, they even make heroic efforts to assist one another."

With that in mind, we've put together a list of seven times that elephants demonstrated their compassion for others — including the species that's driving them to extinction.


1. When a baby elephant in South Korea fell into a pool, its mom received help in leading it to safety.

In June 2017, video emerged from a South Korean zoo showing a baby elephant playing at the edge of a pool next to its mom. When the baby fell in after dipping its trunk in the water, its mother and another adult elephant tried to reach it with their trunks. Upon realizing they couldn't help the baby that way, both grown elephants raced the shallow end of the pool and quickly herded the baby to safety. 

2. Another young elephant "saved" her human rescuer in Thailand.

As hard as it may be to believe, an elephant's impulse to rescue something in trouble extends beyond its own species. Take, for example, the above video from CNN. The 2016 clip shows a baby Asian elephant named Kham La jumping into a river to "save" a man named Darrick who rescued her a year earlier. Though Darrick was never actually in any danger, it appears Kham La thought he needed help during a swim in the water. You can watch as she wades into the river and makes her way to Darrick before nudging him to shore with her trunk.

3. One abandoned elephant found family in a former service dog.

Speaking of bonds, elephants are social animals who love to make friends, and will even look to other species to find a trusty pal. For example, when an elephant named Ellie was abandoned by his herd and taken to the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage in Zululand, South Africa in 2016, he was sick and withdrawn, but upon being introduced to a former service and sniffer dog named Duma, Ellie's health and demeanor drastically improved. Ellie and Duma now have an unshakeable connection.

4. If needed, an entire herd will band together to help their own.

Since elephants travel in herds it should come as no surprise that they're fans of teamwork, but that teamwork extends beyond hunting for food. As you can see in the 2016 video from ABC 7 News above, a group of elephants at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand worked together to save a baby elephant in trouble. After realizing the current in a river was too much for the baby to withstand, a crew of grown elephants helped out by surrounding and protecting the youngster from the powerful water. The "shield" the grownups created allowed the baby to make it safely to land.

5. Elephants' bonds are long-lasting.

It turns out there's truth to the old adage, "an elephant never forgets." In addition to being able to remember the locations of watering holes and other important landmarks, researchers have found elephants can recognize companions and relatives, even after long periods of separation.

In the video above, courtesy of National Geographic, watch as an elephant was reunited with her daughter after approximately four years apart. Try not to shed a tear.

6. And they love a good cross-species cuddle.

Just like (some) humans, elephants are partial to a good cuddle session. Need proof? Take a look at the above 2012 video of a young elephant named Tara, who enthusiastically greeted her human friend, Arthur, at the Patara Elephant Farm where she lives after he called her name.

7. Elephants offer each other comfort when times get tough.

Like humans, elephants mourn their dead. As seen in the video above from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, when an elephant dies, other elephants in his or her family grieve and mark the loss by interacting with the bones of the deceased. In addition, the mourning elephants also remain very quiet and still, and appear to engage in a period of deep thought and reflection not unlike what might occur at a funeral service for a human.

Grieving elephants also comfort and reassure one another after a loss.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Paejar.


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