Elephants are considered to be one of the most complex mammals on the planet, exhibiting more similarities to humans than you might think. Even to the casual observer, it is evident that these herd-traveling giants are tightly bonded within their family unit. Scientific research not only supports this commonly held belief, but expands on it with examples of what humans would call deep devotion, compassion and even altruism on the part of elephants.
For instance, elephants are the only species other than humans who mourn their dead. When encountering the remains of an elephant, the herd forms a circle around it and falls silent while they investigate and touch every aspect of the bones with their trunks and their highly sensitized hind feet. They perform this ritual regardless of how much time has passed since the death of the elephant. No other species – not even chimpanzees who share over 98% of our DNA – have displayed this level of emotion and are as deeply affected by death.
Renowned photographers, documentarians and activists, Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson have observed elephants and their behaviors for many years. Their latest documentary, The Last Stand of the African Elephant, examines the human/elephant bond and makes a call to action to stop the ivory trade. View the trailer, narrated by Ali MacGraw, below.
When asked why this has become their life’s work, Christo states, “Humans may have followed elephants along ancient migration paths out of Africa. Like us, elephants recognize who they are…They have influenced us biologically, culturally, and mythically for hundreds of thousands of years. When we stare into their eyes, we stare into the eyes of origin. Without the elephants, we lose our ballast. We have this decade to stop the slaughter of the innocents. Their future is our fate.”