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First cases of Asian elephants mourning, burying their dead documented in India

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Asian elephants in India's Bengal region have been observed mourning and burying their dead calves, a recent study by Indian scientists has documented.

What the scientists found: The study, published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, details five instances between 2022 and 2023 where elephant herds in northern Bengal carried their calves using their trunks and legs before burying them in irrigation canals, with legs facing upwards. The calves, aged 3 months to 1 year, died from various causes.

Unprecedented behavior: Both African and Asian elephants are known to approach carcasses at various stages of decomposition. Previously, such burial behavior was only documented in African elephants and remained unexplored among their smaller Asian counterparts.

Mourning rituals: Researchers Parveen Kaswan and Akashdeep Roy highlighted that they found no direct human intervention in any of the five calf deaths and observed the elephants leave the burial site within 40 minutes and avoid the area afterward.

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In one instance, the herd "loudly roared and trumpeted around the buried calf," which appears to indicate a form of mourning ritual. The researchers noted that the herd only buried calves due to the "non-feasibility" of transporting heavier adult elephants.

The bigger picture: The researchers noted that understanding and documenting Asian elephants' behavioral patterns is crucial for their conservation. Asian elephants are recognized as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with an estimated 26,000 individuals living in the wild, mostly in India and Southeast Asia. The study underscores the importance of preserving elephant habitats and ensuring their coexistence with human activities.

 

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