Wild Stories – Elephant Altruism

After I posted Wild Fact #992 – A Death in the Family I came across some interesting stories about elephants showing sensitivity and altruism.  I started to think that there are probably a lot of stories out there that display the capacity of animal intelligence. So as an added bonus I will pass along these fascinating stories as I come across them.

I will start with one that I found about the gentle nature of elephants.

The Ranch Herder

This is a story I came across from a book titled “Coming of Age with Elephants” by Joyce Poole. She retold a story about a ranch herder that was by himself in the wilderness when he came across a family of elephants.  The matriarch, being the protective leader, charged the ranch herder and broke one of his legs.  I know this doesn’t sound like a very altruistic behaviour but just bear with me.  When the herder didn’t arrive home that night they sent a search party out to look for him.  They found the man without any difficulties, however, they had to deal with a protective elephant guarding the wounded man.  Once they scared the elephant away the ranch herder told them that he was unable to stand up.  The man recounted how the elephant lifted the man with her trunk and placed him under a shady tree.  From then on she spent the day guarding the man and would gently touch him with her trunk from time to time.  This shows the true altruism of elephants as the elephant would not benefit from spending her day looking after a human.

If you are interested in hearing about more from Joyce Poole and how she grew up studying the behaviour of elephants then be sure to pick up her book: Coming of Age With Elephants


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    Bev Lawrence September 10, 2009

    I love it. I always knew elephants had a big heart – must be why I like them so much. Thanks Nathan.

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    Monte January 21, 2011

    I’d have to say it has to do with species reciprocation. Look at dogs; these used to be wolves. We had convergent patterns of evolution, which means one of two things would eventually occur; we’d wipe eachother out, or find a way to share the world. We live by the same means, which will lead to confrontations. We either develop an understanding and share, or we battle it out.

    Basically; same brain, same function. Same function, same niche. Same niche. same social contract.

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    James May 06, 2012


    Yes, but dogs through to those little fish that clean the larger ones are clearly profiting from their symbiotic relationship.

    Why do elephants repeatedly perform acts which have zero gains for the Elephant (other than an amazing respect from mankind, though that cannot be the reason)?

    Their nature to aid many species is shocking to me, and I would love to know the evolutionary advantage of doing so.

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