Elephants are extremely intelligent mammals with a remarkable ability to remember places, events and information. As I learned about these amazing animals I couldn’t help but draw parallels between them and humans. Among the many traits that we share with elephants the most striking commonality are the emotional responses. Like humans they too exhibit emotions; they mourn the loss of their loved ones, can become sad or melancholic, show compassion or express jubilation. Although I have not seen all these behaviors first hand I did have the privilege of briefly observing an elephant herd once. Needless to say, it was the youngest members of the herd who charmed us all. These two baby elephants were probably less than a year old with a delightful demeanor. They had a playful wobbly gait and an insatiable curiosity for everything in their path. It was their little trunks that led them on their adventure that morning - they swayed it playfully, reached for twigs (and missed), sniffed the air, rolled up the trunk into their mouths, and practiced their trumpet skills. They did all this and more while keeping pace with their herd, which was constantly on the move. Their slightly uncoordinated trunk kept them blissfully entertained and kept me completely captivated.
Elephant are known not only known for their exceptional cognitive ability such as intelligence and memory, but also for their complex social family structure. The matriarch, usually the oldest and largest female, is the head of the herd; she is in-charge of making all the decision for the herd. Each herd consists of young calves and several females who are all related – mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and grandmothers. Herd members pitch in to care for the young; whether it’s keeping a watchful eye over them or teaching them the ways of the wild. Their family structure beautifully epitomizes the proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. Male elephants remain with the herd till they reach puberty. After which they leave the birth family and usually join smaller all-male elephant group. The transition from their birth family to independent living happens over a course of few years. Calves and young elephants learn a wide range of behavior from their mothers and by following the lead of older herd members. These include foraging for food, parenting skills, use of tools, appropriate social behavior, and learning to recognize threats, to name a few.