Asian elephants can comfort themselves in times of distress

Scientists have observed elephant reactions to stressful situations. Animals are able to calm each other down, according to study.

Asian elephants are able to comfort and soothe each other with physical contact and vocalizations in times of distress, according to the findings of a study published February 18, 2014 by PeerJ magazine.

"People easily notice that elephants are intelligent and empathic animals," said study author Joshua Plotnik, who studied at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, when he began the research. "However, as scientists, we had to prove this relationship," he added.

Solace among animals is considered rare, although there is abundant empirical evidence of behaviors of comfort, companionship, and sympathy among apes, canids, and certain corvids.

The study's coauthor, psychology professor Frans de Waal, who runs the Yerkes National Center for Primate Research in Emory, noted that "with their strong social ties, it is not surprising that elephants show mutual concern."

"This study demonstrates that elephants are stressed when they see other animals experiencing stress and therefore approach to soothe them in a gesture that is not unlike chimpanzees or humans embracing someone at a time. of anguish, "he added.
Plotnik, who now works at Mahidol University in Thailand, wrote that "humans are unique in many ways, but not as many as we thought."

For this study, scientists observed 26 Asian elephants for nearly a year in a 13-hectare elephant camp in northern Thailand. They later recorded the situations in which elephants showed stress and, of course, the reactions of nearby elephants.

Stress situations responded to a number of causes that scientists could not determine or more observable causes, such as the passage of a dog, a snake or some other animal, as well as the presence of a hostile elephant.

"When an elephant gets restless, its ears extend sideways, its tail lifts or bends, and the animal makes a low-pitched noise like a trumpet," Plotnik explained.

The study found that nearby elephants approached the stressed individual for more frequent direct physical contact than recorded during quiet periods.