Asian elephants cry and bury their dead calves

An Indian study reveals behavior similar to a funeral rite

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Asian elephants cry and bury their dead calves
© Wikimedia commons

A heartbreaking news comes directly from India, precisely from the Bengal region, and concerns Asian elephants, who cry and bury their dead cubs. A study of five burials of calves under one year of age between 2022 and 2023 revealed this sad and touching custom of Asian elephants.

According to the study, the cubs were buried in the irrigation canals of tea plantations, hundreds of meters away from human settlements. In all five cases, the cub's carcass was transported by the pack. During one funeral, members of the pack bellowed loudly around the deceased cub.

The findings were published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa by Parveen Kaswan of the Indian Forest Service and Akashdeep Roy of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

About the Asian elephant

The Asian elephant has an overall structure similar to that of the African elephant, but with some rather marked differences. In addition to the smaller size of the males, the differences in the shape of the skull are evident, which in this species has two prominences and an internal indentation.

In Nepal's Bardia National Park, elephants consume large amounts of floodplain grass, particularly during the monsoon season. They graze more in the dry season with bark forming an important part of their diet in the cool part of that season. During a study in a 62-square-mile mixed tropical humid deciduous forest area in Assam, elephants were observed to feed on around 20 species of grasses, plants and trees. Herbs such as Imperata cylindrica and Leersia hexandra constituted by far the predominant component of their diet.

Asian elephants
Asian elephants© Wikimedia commons

This elephant is native to continental Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, Laos, China, Cambodia and Vietnam. Inhabits grasslands, dry deciduous, moist deciduous, evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.

The main threats to Asian elephants today are habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, which are driven by an expanding human population and in turn lead to increasing conflicts between humans and elephants when elephants eat or trample crops . The loss of significant extents of elephant range and suitable habitat continues.

Elephant poaching for ivory is a serious threat in parts of Asia. Tusk poaching impacts ratios which become highly female-biased; genetic variation is reduced and fecundity and recruitment may decrease.