Elephants, who live in herds headed by a matriarch and made up of related females, their children, and immature males, have long been known to bond strongly with fellow elephants, whether they be herd mates or individuals from other herds! Both Asian and African elephant family herds have been seen to develop social networks among herd mates and even with elephants in other herds.
Scientists have been extensively following and watching elephants both in the wild and in captivity and have observed many different social interactions similar to human ones. They’ve seen elephants play together, eat together, show distress when unexpectedly separated from herd mates, and come to the rescue of fallen or injured herd mates! During these observations, the scientists witnessed that elephants who saw a stressed elephant move towards and physically caress the upset elephants. Bystanders also rumble and chirp with vocal reassurance. Sometimes these empathetic animals even form a protective circle around the distressed individual! They have also been seen to empathize with other elephants by coming to the aid of weaker individuals and also celebrating births, grieving lost herd members , and caring for other herd mates’ children.
Finding out that elephants form friendships and bonds just like us humans is not only fascinating in terms of "what other animals are capable of" but is also a prime example of convergent evolution, which occurs when similar traits or behaviors evolve in different species separately but as a result of similar environmental pressures. In this case, empathy and consolation behaviours evolved separately for both apes and elephants!
Want to see video footage of elephants working and playing together? Looking for other brilliant elephant footage? Visit the Good Stock Library’s Collection to preview more.