I don’t know why this dying matriarch’s herd abandoned her, but it must have been for good reason. I knew she needed help standing up, and I wanted to help her with her last dying wishes. She had a swollen trunk, a broken tusk, and several abrasions on her body.
I have a feeling that she wanted to show herself that she still had the inner and outer strength of a leader, even when facing imminent death. I am not related to this matriarch, but being the head of a herd myself, we have an unspoken bond.
I admired her tenacity and I used my tusks repeatedly help her up, but after standing for a short time, she collapsed again. Ironically my herd left me while I was continuing to help her, but I knew I could catch up to them later.
I stayed with her in her last remaining hours. She didn’t have to die alone, and when times are tough, I think of her strength. I still visit her remains to this day. An elephant never forgets!
Elephant social bonds are so strong that we often visit “elephant graveyards,” where we touch with our trunks the bones of long dead ancestors (or in my case, friends too). This reverence for the dead is important not only to maintain social bonds, and it also helps young elephants understand where they come from. It is also a not so subtle reminder of the constant danger we live in.
Our greatest enemies today are the humans who still hunt us for our ivory tusks. It’s such a shame that they do not use the whole elephant that they kill, but they just take the tusks.
You can help us by not buying any products containing ivory, and supporting non-profit organizations (such as Save the Elephants) that protect elephants.
This post based on this article on BBC Nature about their upcoming documentary series in January 2013 (on Discovery Channel in the US) called “Africa.”
Link to scientific paper, “Behavioral Reactions of Elephants Towards a Dying and Deceased Matriarch.”