As the elephant calf stepped into the river, it could feel the powerful water flowing against it. Nevertheless, it pushed forward; the opposite bank couldn’t be too far away. Suddenly, the current overtook the baby, and tumbling shapes was all it could see.
There is no doubt that elephants are intelligent creatures. African and Asian elephants have advanced brains similar to our own in some ways, particularly their big, complicated neocortex. Only a few known animals – such as certain dolphins, apes, and, indeed, us – have this characteristic.
In addition, elephant brains have the most mass in the animal kingdom. They’re almost double the size of a blue whale’s brain, despite the obvious size difference between the two creatures. And 300 billion neurons power an elephant’s cognition – that’s just as many as humans have.
In fact, experts in animal behavior widely believe elephants rank among the smartest creatures in the world. Not only do they physically have the capacity for higher functions, they also display the appropriate behavior. An elephant’s emotional capacity is well renowned.
Observers have seen elephants displaying evidence of self-awareness, mimicry, having fun and working together. They even appear to have a sense of kindness, and aid ill or suffering creatures. Not just members of their own species either; there have been cases of elephants helping other animals too.
On the other hand, there are some people who doubt some of the complexities of these emotions. For example, there are those who believe that we’re anthropomorphizing elephants, or viewing them with human qualities they don’t possess. Regardless, none can doubt their devotion to family.
An elephant herd, whether by genetics or social bond, is very much like a family. The website Elephant Voices elaborates on the subject in more detail. “Members of a family show extraordinary teamwork and are highly cooperative in group defense, resource acquisition, offspring care, and decision-making,” it writes.
Elephants particularly come together as a unit when there are calves and young involved. In these circumstances, it’s not just the genetic mother who cares for the baby. The entire herd looks after younger members and protects them from dangers they’re inevitably exposed to.
Female family members, or cows, practice allomothering – essentially, babysitting – for mothers of the herd. This increases the survival rate of calves, but it has another purpose too. It also teaches younger cows how to care for their own future offspring.
This kind of care and cooperation is one thing to hear about, but it’s another thing entirely to witness. Yet that’s exactly what drone footage picked up from a southwestern China river on September 11, 2018. The event was captured from the Yunnan Province.
To be specific, the drone belonged to a monitoring team from the province’s Pu’er City. It shows a herd of Asian elephants attempting to cross a flowing river. However, the current is too strong for a little calf, and it carries the elephant away.
The observant elephants realize what’s happening in just a few seconds. They consequently spring into action, and the closest one wades after the waterlogged calf. The nearby adults follow and join the pursuit for their disappearing herd baby.
After a short chase, the adults manage to catch up with the drowning baby. Then they use their bodies to surround it, with the intention of preventing the calf from floating away. Unfortunately, the elephants can’t complete the circle quick enough, and the river reclaims its victim.
The elephants give chase again, and this time the leader reaches out with its trunk. Perhaps the appendage helps slow the baby down, but either way, its herd members catch up once again. This time, they make a blockade for Junior.
Two members of the herd flank the calf, thus protecting it from the river’s flow. Together, the trio manage to escort their baby most of the way across the river. But their efforts almost fail again as they try to get the calf onto dry land.
Although baby slips past them once more, the adults are prepared this time. They direct their calf at an angle along the bank until they can steer it ashore. The video ends with the group parting to show their baby pushing through the tall grass to shore.
This heartwarming footage is an incredible example of how elephants work together with their herd. It also shows their dedication to the younger members of their family. Nor is it the first time such behavior has been documented on camera.
A similar situation was captured on camera on May 7, 2014, this time with a group of African elephants. Kicheche Laikipia and Sandy Gelderman witnessed the event in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy on the Ewaso Nyiro river. Those elephants also prevented a river from claiming their calf.
According to what Laikipia wrote on the video upload’s description, the occurrence isn’t unusual. “With the river deep, mountain high banks are never easy for adults, let alone a six-month-old calf,” they explained. It must have been amazing to witness.
“They say elephants can remember,” Laikipia continued. “Well, this little calf will remember this advanced swimming lesson for the rest of its life, as will Sandy.” No doubt this Asian elephant will too, thanks to the quick reactions of its attentive family.