Elephants are truly gorgeous creatures. While I usually write about the weird and unnerving animals on this blog, I want to also appreciate these gentle giants.
Elephants are known for their size and strength, and are symbols of wisdom and peace. They are the largest land mammals on earth and have caused their fair share of destruction, but they also harbour incredible intelligence and empathy. In India and Africa, elephants are symbols of war and peace, representing both victory and protection.
The reason for this is understandable; elephants have become increasingly aggressive as humans encroach on their territories and food sources. An angry elephant is a dangerous thing to be around, contributing to around 500 deaths a year. With the largest members of the species weighing up to 6,800 kilos, elephants should not be underestimated.
Despite their strength, elephants possess incredible emotional intelligence. Their herds function as a close community, with aunts, sisters and cousins helping to raise calves. Elephants play with their young, bond with other animals, and grieve over their loved ones.
Elephants have their own funeral rites and mourning periods. This process involves the herd standing vigil over the dead elephant, touching it with their trunks to signal their grief. The herd will sleep alongside the body for a time, and will fiercely defend it against predators.
Just like humans, each elephant processes their grief differently. Those who have formed strong friendships with the dead will isolate themselves from the rest of the herd, refusing to eat. Some have even died of a broken heart.
Their empathy extends to elephants from different herds, and even members of different species. Lawrence Anthony was a conservationist and environmentalist who worked to rehabilitate traumatised elephants. A herd of nine elephants were acting aggressively and destroying property, and were about to be shot before Anthony intervened.
He calmed the herd’s matriarch with his body language and tone of voice, which, amazingly, the elephant understood and respected. These elephants had been moved to a reserve for their own safety but didn’t understand that, so they lashed out. Earning himself the name “the elephant whisperer”, Lawrence formed an incredible bond with the animals.
Anthony died years later of a heart attack. Despite not seeing him in a very long time, the elephants heard somehow knew he was dead and made their way to his house, standing vigil for two days. Apparently, that same herd comes back every year to mourn him, the man who saved their lives.
You may have heard the saying, “an elephant never forgets”. While the animals do have great memories, this is a bit exaggerated. They don’t remember everything, but they will rarely forget a face. Elephants also have excellent spacial memory, which helps them remember the paths to vital watering holes.
There are more myths about elephants to debunk; they are not afraid of mice, despite what cartoons have told us. Nor do they drink through their trunks or eat peanuts, either; they use their trunks as a hand, but they will suck water partway up their trunks to then spray it out while playing.
There’s a lot to learn about these majestic creatures. Thankfully, efforts are being taken to preserve the species, but both African and Indian elephants are still in great danger of becoming extinct, mostly due to human interference.