Elephant Emotions - Joy

Elephants have always cultivated a fascination for human beings, a fact that is evident by the many myths and folklore tales about them. Researchers have observed these animals at length, and they never seem to disappoint.

In fact, despite much data being gleaned on elephants, they still have the ability to surprise their trainers with their unique abilities and unmatched intelligence. One of the qualities that set elephants apart as animals (and evoke a sense of kinship to human beings) is that of emotion. Elephants are capable of sadness, joy, love, jealousy, fury, grief, compassion and distress.

Elephants are one of a select few animals that have the capacity to be joyful and playful with one another, to grasp humour and appreciate it.

As social creatures, elephants will frequently touch one another in affectionate, loving ways. Joy is most often displayed when they greet close friends or family members. Herds sometimes split and larger families are separated, depending on the matriarch’s decision. This can be due to excessive numbers or shortages of food or water.

When these herds meet at watering holes or breeding spots, they joyfully greet one another. This welcoming reception includes turning around in circles, holding their heads up, flapping their ears, trumpeting, screaming and even urinating and defecating. Elephants who have formed very close bonds with people are also likely to react in this way on seeing their companion after a separation.

Another major cause for celebration is the birth of a calf. During the birth, the aunts and matriarch gather around the mother in joyful support.

Once the calf is born, the others help it to its mother’s teat to begin suckling. Celebrations begin and the cows begin to trumpet, rumble and even scream in joy and excitement.

Interestingly, elephants have even been known to amuse themselves by playing games. These can either be played in a group, or with just one player. The animal will use objects from its environment and toss, twist, or interact with it in some way. Games are initiated by trumpeting loudly, indicating to those in the herd that a new session has begun.

Unlike humans and some other species, playing games is not confined to the youth; older matriarchs and bulls have been known to engage in some playful recreation. Elephants have even displayed a sense of humour in their games, often tricking and teasing their spectators.

Elephants in captivity have been observed stealing from or playfully handling the onlookers.

It is doubtful that we will ever have a full understanding of the capacity of the elephant brain. As we submit humbly to this fact, we continue to enjoy the surprises as we observe them unfolding.

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