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The extent to which elephants hold behavioural traits in common with human beings is relevant to the ethics of how we treat them. Observations show that elephants, like humans, are concerned with distressed or deceased individuals, and render assistance to the ailing and show a special interest in dead bodies of their own kind. This paper reports helping and investigative behaviour of different elephants and their families towards a dying and deceased matriarch. We make use of long-term association records, GPS tracking data and direct observations. Records made around the time of death, shows that the helping behaviour and special interest exhibited was not restricted to closely related kin. The case is made that elephants, like human beings, can show compassionate behaviour to others in distress. They have a general awareness and curiosity about death, as these behaviours are directed both towards kin and non-related individuals. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Applied Animal Behaviour Science

Publication Date





87 - 102