October 29, 2005

Elephants Honor Their Dead

I remember hearing some time ago that elephants would travel long distances to return to sites where their ancestors were killed. Was it paying respect to their memories?

Today, New Scientist reports Elephants may page homage to dead relatives.

  Elephants And Skulls
The elephants showed a strong preference towards an elephant skull (middle) rather than the skulls of a buffalo or a rhino (Image: Royal Society/Karen McComb)

Elephants may pay homage to the bones of dead relatives in their home ranges, a study of the creatures’ responses to skulls and ivory suggests.
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African elephants have been observed to become highly agitated when they come across the bodies of their own, and they have been seen to pay great attention to the skull and ivory of long-dead elephants. However, this interest had not been tested experimentally.
Now research from a team in the UK and Kenya has demonstrated that African elephants pay a higher level of interest to elephant skulls compared with those of other animals and ivory compared to wood.
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The notion of elephant graveyards – where old elephants wander off to die – has been exposed as myth by previous studies, the researchers note. Nonetheless, they believe their experiments “cast light” on why elephants are often seen interacting with the skulls and ivory of dead companions.
But there is no way to tell whether the elephants are mourning their dead – although they get very excited when approaching carcasses, with secretions streaming from their temples.

Posted by Jill Fallon at October 29, 2005 2:11 AM | Permalink