Empathetic Elephants

When an elephant sees another in distress, he consoles him. He touches him to calm him down, using his “trunk to gently touch [his] face.” He may also put his trunk in the distressed elephant’s mouth, much like a chimpanzee will put a hand into a distressed compatriot’s mouth.

One author of the study that made this finding (which was published in Peer J on February 16, 2014), Dr. Frans de Waal, says elephants “get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset.” They also make a high-pitched chirping sound to comfort each other. Sometimes a whole group of elephants will surround and chirp to a distressed individual.

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