They deliberate among themselves, make group decisions and applaud their achievements. “Being part of an elephant family is all about unity and working together for the greater good,” says Joyce Poole, one of the world’s foremost elephant experts and co-founder of the charity ElephantVoices, which promotes the study and ethical care of elephants. “When they are getting ready to do a group charge, for example, they all look to one another: ‘Are we all together? Are we ready to do this?’ When they succeed, they have an enormous celebration, trumpeting, rumbling, lifting their heads high, clanking tusks together, intertwining their trunks.”
Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and another preeminent elephant researcher, once saw a particularly amazing example of elephant cooperation. One day the young and audacious Ebony, daughter of a matriarch named Echo, bounded right into the midst of a clan that was not her own. As a show of dominance, that clan kidnapped Ebony, keeping her captive with their trunks and legs. After failing to retrieve Ebony on their own, Echo and her eldest daughters retreated.
A few minutes later they returned with all the members of their extended family, charged into the clan of kidnappers and rescued Ebony. “That took forethought, teamwork and problem-solving,” Moss says. “How did Echo convey that she needed them? It's a mystery to me, but it happened.” Elephants often refuse to leave their sick and injured behind, even if the ailing animal is not a direct relative. Poole once observed three young male elephants struggle to revive a dying matriarch, lifting her body with their tusks to get her back on her feet. Another time, while driving through Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, Poole saw a female elephant give birth to a stillborn baby.
The mother guarded her dead calf for two days, trying over and over to revive its limp body. Realizing that the grieving mom had not had any sustenance this whole time, Poole drove near her with an offering of water. The elephant stretched her trunk inside the car and eagerly drank her fill. When she was done, she remained with Poole for a few moments, gently touching her chest.