Facing the dead: Is mourning behavior an indicator that elephants feel sadness?

The concept of animals being able to feel and experience emotions has long been a burning question of man (for full discussion, see Bekoff, 2000). Often times we do observe behaviors that seem to suggest the possibility that animals are emotional beings like us. A dog being scolded by his master knows how to whimper, have its head and tail down, and thus appears to look guilty. A cat licking its kitten seems to demonstrate care and love for its offspring. A monkey baring its teeth and growling in aggression has been assumed to be showing anger. Indeed, Darwin has drawn the link between emotion expression in humans and animals in his book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). According to him, much of humans’ emotional expression had its roots in our more primitive past, and serves a particular function. For example, the widening of the eyes in humans upon being surprised seems to facilitate the intake of novel information. The human tendency to grimace when angry seems to reflect a suppression of a more primitive urge to bite during an anger episode. However, there are still scientists who draw caution in assuming that displays of such emotion-related behaviors in animals are markers of their emotional experiences (see Bekoff, 2000).  As animals are not able to report their subjective feelings, science currently has no other method to measure the existence of such emotions in animals objectively.  Nonetheless, it is still interesting that emotion-related behaviors are being observed amongst animals.

Of special interest is the elephant. There has been multiple observations of elephants mourning for the lost of one of their kind, upon stumbling onto a carcass. This appears to happen in both Asian, Elephas maximus, (Joshi, 2010) and African, Loxodonta Africana, (McComb, Baer, & Moss, 2006; Merte, Gogh, & Schulte, 2008) elephants. Such behavior has not been observed in most of other animals, and is thus, unique to elephants (and humans). This video provides an example of what happens:

An Elephant Mourns a Fallen Friend

As elaborated by (Joshi, 2010; Merte, Gogh & Schulte, 2008), elephants, the elephant has been found to be capable of displays such mourning behavior, which, appears to be reminiscence of humans’ mourning behavior. It was observed that when a member of the herd has passed away, either due to fights or  injury, the entire herd would gather around the dead elephant and stay there, not eating, and not allowing anything near it for 18 hours to 24 hours (e.g., Joshi, 2010). Mothers of stillborn infants appear to grieve for days over her dead infant, crying and trying to revive it, before finally moving on (Joshi, 2010; MacKenzie, 2001). Often, when a herd comes across a skeleton of another elephant, they would also hover around the carcass and examine the bones and skull by smelling, touching and moving the bones around, as if trying to recognize whom it was (McComb, Baker, & Moss, 2006; Merte, Gough, & Schulte, 2008). If it were not buried, sometimes they would then attempt to bury it as well (Joshi, 2010). They are even known to visit the grave of the dead elephants (Bhattacharya, 2005). Furthermore, other studies also found that elephants also display some kind of emphatic behavior to the injured and distress (Douglas-Hamilton, Bhalla, Wittemyer, & Vollrath, 2006).

So what is the implication of such behavior? Does this indicate that they are able to feel sadness? Do elephants understand the meaning of death and loss? Does this mean that they also have the emotion of love, that they understand the concept of love and empathy? Does this suggest that elephants have some kind of higher level consciousness (compared to other animals who do not display such behavior) and are thus able to reflect upon death, life and loss?

Unfortunately, there is still as yet no concrete answer to these questions. One can only infer and speculate about the emotional lives of elephants. Nonetheless, these findings do tell us that elephants have the ability to recognize their own kind (even the carcass), and also speak of their strong social bonds between each other. Such findings about animal behavior are encouraging in our pursuit of better understanding animals and evolution, and the research on the emotional life of animals continues.


“An elephant mourns for a fallen friend – Echo of the Elephants,” by agodinthesky YouTube Channel, 26 November 2007, URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZuW7M4VbDs&feature=related (accessed on 5 April 2010).

Bekoff, M. (2000). Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures. BioScience, 50(10), 861-870.

Darwin, C., & Ekman, P. (1872). The expression of the emotions in man and animals (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Douglas-Hamilton, I., Bhalla, S., Wittemyer, G., & Vollrath, F. (2006). Behavioral reactions of elephant towards a dying and deceased matriarch. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 100(1), 87-102

“Elephants may pay homage to dead relatives”, NewScientist, by S. Bhattacharya, 26 October 2005, URL: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8209-elephants-may-pay-homage-to-dead-relatives.html (accessed on 5 April 2010)

“Elephants mourn the loss of a young bull,” by Kelly. Elephants without Borders, 4th August 2009. URL: http://elephantswithoutborders.org/blog/?p=151 (accessed on 5 April 2010).

“Grieving,” Elephant Information Repository, by P. MacKenzie, 2001, URL:


(accessed on 5 April 2010).

Joshi, R. (2010). How social are Asian Elephants Elephas maximus? New York Science Journal, 3(1), 27-31

McComb, K., Baker, L., & Moss, C. (2006). African elephants show

high levels of interest in the skulls and ivory of their own species. Biology Letters, 2(1), 26-28.

Merte, C.E., Gough, K.F., & Schulte, B.A. (2008). Investigation of a fresh African elephant carcass by conspecifics. Pachyderm, 44, 124-126.

Where they were born!

salmon sushi

Have you ever taste this kind of sushi? If yes, definitely you’d know this made of Salmon, the common name for many species of fish of the family Salmonidae. However, did you ever ask yourself a question, what is the special characteristic of this delicious fish? It’s their migration.


Salmon, Oncorhynchus, are very different from other fish. While almost every fish can only live in fresh or salt water, Salmon can live in both. They were born in fresh water, live there for the 1st part of their life, migrate and live in ocean when they are older, and finally, when the fish reach their sexual maturity, Salmon make an unbelievable journey to where they were born to spawn.

salmon egg

The eggs are laid in fresh water. After 50-150 days, the eggs will hatch into alevin or sac fry. The sac fry will quickly grow into parr. Salmon will stay in this state for 1 to 3 years then develop into smolt. It is said that only 10% of the eggs can survive to this stage. When the salmon reach the size of 15-20 cm, the salmon start swimming toward the ocean. Salmon will spend some of their migration time in brackish water so that their physical and chemical characteristics have time to change, allowing them to survive in salt water.

The salmon will spend 6 months to 7 years in the ocean, grow up and become sexual maturity in salt water. The fish will change many part of their body including their colour from bright silvery blue to darker colour to attract spawning mate. Then they will make an amazing journey from the ocean to the stream where they hatched to spawn. It is believed that the salmon choose the same stream because “they “know” it is a good place to spawn and they won’t waste time looking for another stream with good habitat and other fish to spawn with” (Western Fisheries Research Center, Questions and Answers about Salmon). The salmon may get hurt, lost or eaten during the journey but mostly, they will make it. However, the methods the salmon use to find their way home is still a mystery. The possible answer is that the salmon can tell the directions in the ocean based on the earth’s magnetic field. Some believes they can “smell” the find their way home. They build their “smell memory-bank” when they start migrating to the ocean as young fish. (Western Fisheries Research Center, Questions and Answers about Salmon). Generally, the salmon will die after spawning as they used all their energy to come back without eating once they enter the fresh water.


check it out 🙂


–          Western Fisheries Research Center, Questions and Answers about Salmon, URL: http://wfrc.usgs.gov/outreach/salmonq&a.htm, accessed on 5 apr, 2010.

–          Wikipedia, Salmon, URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon, accessed on 5 apr, 2010.

–          Picture: Salmon sushi, Jim U URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rain-bird/3970689364/, posted on 23 feb 2009

–          Picture: Stamp falls, The Rainbird URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rain-bird/3970689364/, posted on 30 sep 2009

–          Picture: Ikura, Blue Lotus, URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rain-bird/3970689364/, posted on 24 sep 2007

–          Picture: Injured salmon, Rowanlea51, URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rowanlea51/2948075226/, posted on 16 oct 2008.

“I want to fly!” An Eaglet’s Dance to flight.

In the video below is a Blyth’s Hawk-Eaglet seemingly trying to learn how to fly in its nest. Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle, Spizaetus alboniger (IUCN, 2010) is a medium size bird-of-prey at about 51-58cm in length with thick white band on its uppertail and undertail and long erect crest (Wikipedia, 2010; Poh, 2001). They can mainly be found in South-East Asia (SEA) countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Due to its large range and estimated population, it is considered the least concern under IUCN’s Red List Category and Criteria (IUCN, 2010).

The behavioural combination that resembles a dance exhibited in the video appears to be part of eaglet’s wing exercises as they practice and strengthen their wings in preparation for adulthood. To take note of in the video, the eaglet engages in the following behaviour concurrently:

1. Spread its wings widely

2. Flapping its spread wings with great amplitude

3. Spreading its tail 

4. Holding its body almost horizontally

5. Feet holding itself to its nest

6. Occasion jump

Young Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle

However, as there are limited researches done on Blyth’s Hawk Eagles, it is difficult to find credible explanations for these behaviours. Not to be daunted, researches on Golden Eagles, Aquila chrysaetos (IUCN, 2010), showed behaviour traits identical to the ones described above. Though both species are different in their Genus and Species type, they share the same Order (Falconiformes) and Family (Accipitridae) in their scientific classification (IUCN, 2010; IUCN, 2010). And as this particular behavioural trait fits exactly what was described for Golden Eagles, it is reasonable to extrapolate it to Blyth’s Hawk-Eagle in this particular situation in order to provide plausible explanations given the lack of researches done on them. 

Accordingly, behaviours 1 to 5 are part of an eagle’s locomotive behaviour exclusively practiced by their young called the ‘Flap and Spread-Hold’ (Ellis, 1979).  Such behaviour helps to “strengthen their wings, develop wing coordination, and provides experience with the forces at play as the wings pass through a moving air stream” (Ellis, 1979). Thus, in this regard, behaviour 6, occasion jump, can be interpreted as the eaglet trying to get a better feel of how its wings interplay with the surrounding air or wind forces. Eaglets would engage in this wing practicing behaviour at about eight to nine weeks of its development (Hoechlin, 1976; BBC, 2008). 

When these behaviours are carried out concurrently, it would seem to an outsider that the eaglet is carrying out a dance as both its widely spread wings and legs are seemingly moving in concert with one another.


Second Source:

Rettig, N. L. (1978). Breeding Behavior of the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). The Auk, ii+629-643.


“Young Blyth’s Hawk Eagle.flv” by BorneoProduction, YouTube Channel, 31 March 2010. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsZK1D3RsA8 (accessed on 1 April 2010)


BBC. (2008). Scotland’s Wildlife: Golden Eagle. Retrieved April 3, 2010, from BBC Scotland: http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/outdoors/articles/swge/

BirdLife International 2009. Aquila chrysaetos. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 April 2010.

BirdLife International 2009. Spizaetus alboniger. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 April 2010.

Don R. Hoechlin. (1976). Western Bird Photographers. Retrieved April 3, 2010, from The New University of Mexico: Search:

Ellis, D. H. (1979). Development of Behavior in the Golden Eagle. Wildlife Monographs, 3-94.

Poh, L. (2001). Blyth’s Hawk Eagle. Retrieved April 3, 2010, from http://www.angelfire.com/pe2/digiscoping/blyths_hawk_eagle.htm

Wikipedia. (2010). Blyth’s Hawk Eagle. Retrieved April 3, 2010, from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blyth%27s_Hawk-eagle

The Extremely Scarifying Mother

Octopus mother

Despite regarding as a monster of the sea, in protecting eggs, octopus ( octopus vulgaris) turns out to be one of the most extremely scarifying mothers in the planet.

Life of octopus mother is mainly for reproduction. From an egg to an adult (for about one year), octopus mother has to live a fearless way as she needs to hunt and eat as much as possible to prepare for laying eggs. Octopus lays eggs once in its life but an enormous number of eggs from 50,000 to 200,000 is produced. After this, unfortunately, everything is not over for an octopus mother.
Octopus eggs

She then is so busy to look after her eggs that she even does not have time to hunt and eat. She must keep flowing water over eggs and gives them the gentle wash regularly. It is to provide octopus babies with oxygen so that they can breathe through tiny holes in eggs’ cell. She also needs to watch over and fights against her ancestors like the cod, which always try to steal her eggs if they have chance.  It takes eggs roughly 40 days to hatch so it is also 40 days without eating and resting of an octopus mother. Nevertheless, no matter how hungry she is, she never leaves her eggs unprotected. Octopus mother has been  known to digest her own arms to live during this period.

After egg hatching, octopus mother completes her mission and falls into serious condition. She is too weak and exhausted due to long time nurturing and protecting her eggs. It can be said that at this time, life is over for an octopus mother as she can not protect herself from attacks of other fishes.

Although she dies,  a new generation of octopus is produced thanks to her extraordinary devotion. In brief, it can be seen  that octopus is really one of the most extremely scarifying mothers becauseshe invests all of her life in her babies.

The Most Extreme – Octopus Mother

Female Octopus Death Cycle

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