Elephants offer a reassuring touch in stressful times

Asian elephants offer each other comfort in times of distress with trunk touches to the head and elsewhere, a new study finds.

Elise Gilchrist; J.M. Plotnik and Frans B.M. de Waal/PeerJ 2014

Guest post by Allison Bohac

All animals experience stress, and some, including apes, birds, wolves and dogs, comfort their comrades in times of need. A new study suggests elephants may be capable of consoling each other as well.

Asian elephants at a park in Thailand extended their ears, raised their tails and rumbled or roared when agitated by things in their environment, such as nearby helicopters. Bystander elephants were more likely to approach and offer reassuring touches or noises to stressed-out group mates than to nonstressed individuals, researchers report February 18 in PeerJ. This unusual behavior hints that elephants may have the capacity for complicated mental feats such as empathy.

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