Elephants mourn their deceased cubs, burying them in true funeral rites

A new scientific study has documented funeral rites in Asian elephants. Even pachyderms mourn their dead and bury their cubs in rituals that are not so different from human ones

We often regard animals as vastly different from us, sometimes nearly incapable of experiencing certain emotions, but this is not the case. Even animals understand concepts that are not exclusive to human beings, such as grief.

Elephants, social creatures of great intelligence, honor their deceased through actual funeral rituals, burying the bodies of their offspring. This revelation comes from a new scientific study published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, conducted among Asian elephants.

Parveen Kaswan and Akashdeep Roy, experts from the West Bengal Forest Department and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, investigated five elephant calf burials in the Asian context.

The burials were located in India, among forests and tea plantations of the Eastern Himalayan plains. The researchers documented them through opportunistic observation, photographs, and examinations.

The aim was to understand “the peri-mortem strategy and post-mortem behavior of Asian elephants,” as clarified in the publication. The scientists noted that Asian elephants commemorated the lifeless calves with mighty trumpeting, a sort of heartfelt cry for their death.

But the ritual was not limited to just the loud and characteristic sounds of the species. The elephants carried the small carcasses for long distances, something that is not possible for adult individuals, obviously heavier.

The bodies were then buried in a position that the researchers described as “abnormal”, with the legs pointing upwards. The authors of the study stated that the calves died of natural causes, aged between three months and one year.

It is interesting to note that next to the burial site, footprints of other elephants were found, between 15 and 20 specimens, probably gathered for a final farewell to the calves of the herd.

These left the site within about 40 minutes of the burial, moving away and traveling other routes among the plantations. Could this be a sign of respect? The interpretations are multiple.

Until now, burials of calves by African elephants have been discussed in scientific literature, but the same could not be said for those of Asian elephants, only briefly studied.

The study offers a better understanding of the behavior of these extraordinary animals in funeral rites, not so different from those of humans.

Source: Journal of Threatened Taxa

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