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Empathetic Elephants Console Each Other When Frightened

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Much like human beings, Asian elephants use gentle touch and sounds to console one another when they are experiencing fear. This new and exciting information comes out of a study published in the journal Peerj and proves what we already know; that animals have feelings that cannot be discredited.

Joshua Plotnik, a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and CEO of Think Elephants International, and Frans de Waal, of Emory University, observed a group of 26 elephants for nearly a year and recorded what happened when the animals were frightened and distressed. It was observed that, when under stress, gentle touch and sounds were initiated by consoling elephants toward those elephants that were most frightened and that the consoling elephants also took on the emotions of their frightened counterparts, a phenomenon known as “emotional contagion”.

Plotnik believes his research will play a part in elephant conservation, stating, “In Asia, we are faced with large-scale human/elephant conflict issues, and real frustration with the lack of understanding of howand why elephants are attacking people and raiding crops. Although we know that loss of natural habitat is a real instigator of these problems, a better understanding of elephant physical and social intelligence could really help us develop comprehensive conservation protocols that take the elephants’ perspective into account.”

This is just another example of the emotional intelligence of these remarkable animals and their capacity for empathy, an emotional response that is thought to be reserved for human beings only. Let’s hope that by seeing the empathy elephants have for one another, that we may develop more empathy for them and treat them with the respect and awe that they so desperately need and deserve.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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