Asian elephants console other elephants who are in distress, using physical touches and vocalizations, finds a study to be published in the journal PeerJ.
Consolation behavior is rare in the animal kingdom, with empirical evidence previously provided only for the great apes, canines and certain corvids. The findings are the first empirical evidence of consolation in elephants, says lead author Joshua Plotnik.
Frans de Waal, an Emory professor of psychology and director of Living Links at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center is the study’s co-author. He said:
With their strong social bonds, it’s not surprising that elephants show concern for others.This study demonstrates that elephants get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset.
The study focused on a group of 26 captive Asian elephants spread over about 30 acres at an elephant camp in northern Thailand. For nearly a year, the researchers observed and recorded incidences when an elephant displayed a stress reaction, and the responses from other nearby elephants.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.