Do Elephants Communicate with Compassion?

An image of an elephant sheltering a cat reminds us that we are not the only animals that show compassion – elephants show it too.

A few years ago, I read a novel by Jodi Picoult called Leaving Time. Jodi, as always, had gone to great trouble to research for her book which was set in an elephant sanctuary. The following information about elephants has been summarised from Jody’s website.

Elephants have incredibly complex brains. They can communicate; they have an amazing memory; they feel pain and loss and they feel grief. Did you know that elephant ears are as individual as human fingerprints?

From the time they are born, female elephants live with their mother and other female elephants, in herds of up to ten. All the females share the mothering and before they become a mother, they get to practice their mothering skills on younger elephants. Male elephants get thrown out of the herd at about 13 when they start to look for females and become aggressive.

Elephants show empathy. One researcher, Joyce Poole, tells stories of how elephants have saved baby rhino and how they will not leave sick or injured elephants. One story tells of how an elephant in a sanctuary recognised an elephant she had lived with in a circus twenty-two years before, enjoying their renewed relationship after this great separation.

Most poignant of all is that elephants feel and show grief. They show it by drooping the tail and the ears. Around elephant bones, and only elephant bones, they become quiet and respectful, often coming back over a period of years. One of the most compassionate stories is that of a traumatised elephant called Sissy who was brought to the sanctuary after surviving horrendous floods. She carried a tyre as her comforter. Over time she became friends with another elephant, Tina, and when Tina died, Sissy lay down the tyre at her friend’s grave, as though she needed it more.

Do elephants communicate with compassion? I think so, but you can find out for yourself. You can help the plight of elephants by visiting and either “adopt” an elephant or leave a donation, if you can afford it.

You can read more about how Jodi describes elephant behaviour and laugh with some elephant jokes on her webpage at

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