Elephants sniff, carry and kick their dead in Youtube videos analyzed by scientists

Scientists are now scouring YouTube videos to crowdsource Asian elephant interactions and their response to death. Elephants are emotionally intelligent animals known to express grief at the loss of herd mates, and scientists have previously documented wild African elephants taking an interest in the bones of their deceased.

However, not much is known about these events because it is often difficult for scientists to continuously monitor wild animals for this behavior. For the Asian elephant it is even more difficult as they are elusive forest dwellers – although there have been stories of their grief displayed after death, there has been no documentation real scientist.

The researchers searched for keywords associated with grieving elephants, such as “elephant death” and “elephant responding to death”, on YouTube. They then narrowed down the videos to 24 that displayed grieving behavior. These videos were translated as needed and slowed down to observe the display of mourning. Their results were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Sniffing and touching deceased elephants was the most common behavioral trait, highlighting tactile communication in elephant societies. Another behavioral trait was noise – elephants also made noises in response to the deceased elephant, and groups would sometimes gather around the carcass and make roaring or trumpeting noises.

In three cases, the mother of a dead dying calf was seen kicking said calf. This type of reaction also occurs in contexts other than death: for example, after giving birth, an adult woman kicked and twisted the truck in an attempt to revive a newborn baby.

Several videos showed evidence of traits that had never been anecdotally told before, such as adult women carrying dead calves. This reaction may indicate that the elephants were aware that the dead could no longer fend for themselves.

“This port may indicate that they are aware that there is something wrong with the calf,” said Dr. Sanjeeta Pokharel, the paper’s first author and biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. the New York Times.

This research underscores the importance of open-source video data for observing the natural world around us – especially as there is debate over whether only humans have an understanding of death, or whether d ‘other animals also have a certain degree of awareness of death.

Shirley K. Rosa