The research team led by Joshua Plotnik found empirical evidence that elephants are not only self-aware, they sense and take on the emotions of others, a phenomenon termed "emotional contagion."
If you've ever given a hug to an upset friend or cried while reading Where the Red Fern Grows, you've experienced emotional contagion (and if you didn't cry there's something wrong with you).
Plotnik hopes that his research into elephant emotional and social psychology will help conservation groups like the National Elephant Conservation Center develop more effective ways of protecting the remaining 1200-1680 Asian elephants in Peninsular Malaysia.
"In Asia, we are faced with large-scale human/elephant conflict issues, and real frustration with the lack of understanding of how and why elephants are attacking people and raiding crops," Plotnik told Wired.
As it is, the head of the unit Nasharuddin Bin Othman says relocating elephants is a band-aid solution to a greater problem.
Between 2000 and 2012 Malaysia saw the highest rate of deforestation in the world. As forested areas shrink there are fewer places to put elephants where they won't come in contact with human agricultural efforts.
"This is one of the last resorts for wild elephants," says Nasharuddin. "Maybe it's time to look for a different solution."