Elephants are known for their fierce loyalty and their moving displays of emotion, but this story of an elephant mother mourning her baby only demonstrates how deeply these animals can feel - individually and as a group.
The New India Express reports that a one-and-a-half year old baby wild elephant died early Monday morning on the grounds of a coffee farm in the Coimbatore District of Western India, from reportedly eating too much sand. Eighteen elephants, including the baby's mother, gathered around the calf's body to mourn for roughly 12 hours. And they would have stayed longer, but 12 forest rangers escorted the elephants away. According to one ranger, even after the mourning elephants were driven away, their trumpeting could be heard through the trees.
With the global population of elephants in such steep decline, any loss, especially the loss of a baby, is devastating for a herd. Between 2010 and 2012, poaching alone killed over 100,000 elephants. But elephants have long been known to grieve for their dead, often in visible and vocal ways.
Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist and scientific advisor with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya, told The Dodo that although all members of an elephant family will mourn a death, mothers often take it the hardest. "Elephant mothers are particularly affected by the death of a young calf or newborn, and may spend days standing with, touching and even attempting to lift the body of their departed offspring. I have seen a female African elephant carry the body of her stillborn calf with her as she moved for several days," he said.
Elephants live in close-knit family groups, and have often been observed helping each other out, even in times of mourning. "When a member of an elephant herd dies, the other elephants gather around and gently touch the body with their trunks and feet," Andrea Crosta, Director of the Elephant Action League, told The Dodo. "They press together and console each other, grieving for the loss. You can see the suffering on their face and in their posture. They will watch over their relative for days and make mournful-sounding noises, sometimes defending the body against predators."
Elephants face global threats, from poaching to capture to deforestation, and in India the wild elephant population is losing what limiting land and food they have to growing agriculture, which is creating increasing conflict between humans and elephants struggling to share the same land. This story is yet another reminder of how intelligent, compassionate and deserving of respect elephants are. See this page to learn more about what you can do to help wild elephants worldwide.