« Class Act | Main | What's in a Name? »

June 06, 2013

The Souls of Elephants

This is a remarkable piece of writing. It's lengthy, but even if you're not as fond of pachyderms as the Editorial Staff you'll find it full of wonderful ideas:

What is it like to be an elephant? Is it like anything? How would we know?

One of the major clues that elephants have something we would recognize as inner lives is their extraordinary memories. This is attested to by outward indicators ranging from the practical — a matriarch’s recollection of a locale, critical to leading her family to food and water — to the passionate — grudges that are held against specific people or types of people for decades or even generations, or fierce affection for a long-lost friend.

Carol Buckley, co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a retirement ranch for maltreated veterans of circuses and zoos, describes the arrival of a newcomer to the facility. The fifty-one-year-old Shirley was first introduced to an especially warm resident of long standing named Tarra: “Everyone watched in joy and amazement as Tarra and Shirley intertwined trunks and made ‘purring’ noises at each other. Shirley very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus, and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part.” Later in the evening, an elephant named Jenny entered the barn — one who, as it turned out, had as a calf briefly been in the same circus as Shirley, twenty-two years before:

There was an immediate urgency in Jenny’s behavior. She wanted to get close to Shirley who was divided by two stalls. Once Shirley was allowed into the adjacent stall the interaction between her and Jenny became quite intense. Jenny wanted to get into the stall with Shirley desperately. She became agitated, banging on the gate and trying to climb through and over.

After several minutes of touching and exploring each other, Shirley started to ROAR and I mean ROAR — Jenny joined in immediately. The interaction was dramatic, to say the least, with both elephants trying to climb in with each other and frantically touching each other through the bars. I have never experienced anything even close to this depth of emotion.

We opened the gate and let them in together.... they are as one bonded physically together. One moves, and the other shows in unison. It is a miracle and joy to behold. All day ... they moved side by side and when Jenny lay down, Shirley straddled her in the most obvious protective manner and shaded her body from the sun and harm.

They were inseparable until Jenny died a few years later.

Thanks to YAG for the photo :)

Posted by Cassandra at June 6, 2013 06:46 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Wonderful. Fascinating.
While people really are special intellectually, it is difficult for me to believe that no other animals are either/both self aware or possess a kind of sentinence.
Chimps are so close to humans genetically, and are quite capable of learning a simple human language (sign language); heck, there was even a gorilla that learned simple signs.
Many social animals exhibit traits we value, including both memory and affection, as in this example.
While I rather doubt whales are as intelligent as some suppose (I'm betting that a significant fraction of their very large brains are devoted to sonar processing; our own mechanical sonars require sophisticated computers), they are also obviously capable of more than rudimentary thought.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 6, 2013 08:41 PM


I have a new pup! An old one, rather, but new to me.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 7, 2013 01:01 PM