A powerful yet heartbreaking video clip of a herd of elephants mourning the death of their leader has left many netizens deeply moved by the empathy these animals have.
Emotions cannot be measured scientifically, but animal experts have observed and documented that elephants exhibit a complex range of feelings very similar to humans. They feel sadness, joy, love, jealousy, fury, grief, compassion, and distress.
Moreover, elephants express bereavement in a unique manner as seen in some video footage that is making the rounds on the internet.
On the banks of a lake near Anuradhapura, not far from the Kalawewa reserve in Sri Lanka, lies the body of a dead elephant apparently killed by a rival. The dead elephant happened to be the leader of a herd, according to the MailOnline.
Around 10 elephants can be seen in the video gathering around to mourn their fallen leader; many stand by the elephants body silently.
A baby elephant gently stretches out its trunk to “hug” the leader goodbye before turning to leave with the group.
The melancholic scene was captured on film by locals who came to witness the extraordinary moment.
Around 300 elephants were reported to have assembled nearby even though they were not part of the herd.
Non-related elephants have been known to pay respects to other dead elephants, such as touching the carcass or using leaves to cover the bones.
These majestic animals may spend hours or days at a location where a family member died. If they travel away and return, the elephants will stop at the same spot as if to pay their respects.
A study in 2006 done by Oxford University also points out that humans usually reserve their grief for friends and family, while elephants mourn over the death of the loosest acquaintance.
Biologist George Wittemeyer, who studies elephants, told National Geographic that animals “have respect for their dead, but their interaction with their dead is not something we fully understand…”
Wittemeyer also added, “The fact that they interact and have behavioral interactions with their dead in a form that is not explainable in any simple, evolutionary context speaks to the deeper emotional lives of elephants that we can’t easily study.”
In another instance, researcher Shifra Goldenberg shared some rare footage with National Geographic of several elephants standing near the remains of an old female elephant named Victoria.
Victoria had a natural death in 2013 at Kenya’s Sumburu National Reserve. She was surrounded by family and also others who were not related to her.
Goldenberg then told National Geographic, “What the family was doing was interesting, but what her non-relatives were doing is also important.”
She also added: “You see their investigation of the body. You see calves walking past and smelling it. It is amazing to see that level of fascination. Her family was distressed that she wasn’t getting up. But the larger population also was interested in her death.”
This should come as no surprise, because an elephant never forgets.