Asian elephants, like great apes, dogs, certain corvids (the bird group that includes ravens), and us, have now been shown to recognize when a herd mate is upset and to offer gentle caresses and chirps of sympathy, according to a study published February 18 in the online journal PeerJ.
The scientists studied 26 elephants of varying ages at the Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Tang district of Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. (Adult male elephants were excluded for safety reasons.)
It would be unethical to set up stressful situations, so they instead waited patiently for such moments to occur naturally.
A stress-inducing situation might be a dog walking by or a snake rustling the grass, or the roar or just the presence of a bull elephant.
Sometimes the stressor was unknown. Regardless, scientists know elephant distress when they see it: erect tails and flared ears; vocalizations such as…
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