Elephants experience similar feelings to that of humans per a new study published in the Peerj journal . The study discovered that elephants are capable of empathy.
Over the span of a year researchers studied the behavior of 26 captive elephants in Thailand spending between 30 to 180 minutes a day watching and recording the behavior of the animals.
Researchers noticed that when stressful situations arose, the elephants too showed telltale signals of distress similar to how snakes rustle in the grass and dogs walk nearby when they feel stressed. Elephants show this by flaring their ears, erecting their tail and roaring.Joshua Plotnik at the Mahidol University in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, said the elephants also responded by the same type of emotion similar to what we do when we watch a horror movie with another person.Researchers found the elephants moved toward each other, chirped, and touched each other’s face and put their trunks in each other’s mouths.
Plotnik added that the touching of the elephants also happened after a distressing event occurred. This helped link the vocalizations and touching to the feeling of distress.
Researchers recorded more than eighty moments of distress in the elephants and noted the weather, location, time, and presence of the other elephants. They later compared the results of the incident to ones when no stress was taking place.
“The consistency with which elephants responded to a friend in distress was quite remarkable,” said Plotnik. “Rarely did an elephant give a distress call without a response from a friend or group member nearby.”
“In Asia, there are serious problems with human and elephant conflict, and we really don’t understand why elephants are attacking people and raiding crops,” Plotnik said. “Although we know that elephant habitat is shrinking rapidly, a better understanding of elephant behavior could really help in developing comprehensive conservation management protocols that acknowledge the elephants’ perspective.”