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Wednesday, 9th August 2006 Change Date

Science & Technology

The Scotsman Wed 9 Aug 2006

Elephants pay their respects to dead, say scientists


ELEPHANTS pay their respects to lost loved ones and venerated leaders in a way that suggests a human-like capacity for compassion, scientists said yesterday.

They came to the conclusion after watching how elephants on a Kenyan game reserve behaved towards a matriarch who fell ill.

The elephant, named Eleanor by the researchers, was first helped by an unrelated matriarch from another family.

At one point the helper, called Grace, was seen lifting the collapsed animal to her feet using her tusks. When Eleanor fell again, Grace tried again to lift her up, this time without success.

Eleanor died where she fell, and was subsequently visited by elephants from her own and four other families.

The animals showed a distinct interest in the body, sniffing it with their trunks, hovering a foot over it, or nudging it with their tusks.

Some of the visiting elephants had previously had no association with Eleanor, said the scientists.

Elephants appeared to be interested in sick, dying or dead members of their community even when they were unrelated.

"It leads to the conclusion that elephants have a generalised response to suffering and death of con-specifics and that this is not restricted to kin," the scientists wrote in a paper to be published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Most animals show little interest in the dead bodies of their own species.

The research was led by Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, of the zoology department at Oxford University, who founded the charity Save the Elephants.

With colleagues from the University of California, his team monitored 900 individually known animals on the Samburu reserve.

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Last updated: 08-Aug-06 00:16 BST

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