Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Compassionate elephants

The Popbitch crew - currently on holiday - love animal tales so here's one hot off the PA wires. I don't know why compassion is described as a "human-like" attribute in the report below: you have only to watch a great number of species with their young to recognise compassion - which I define as the ability to be aware of pain in others coupled with a desire to relieve it.
But is Anna Wintour compassionate? Does she sense the imprinted pain in the creatures whose skins adorn her skeletal body? Or should Ms Wintour be shot?
Where's my compassion?

Elephants pay their respects to lost loved ones and venerated leaders in a way that suggests a human-like capacity for compassion, scientists said today.
They came to the conclusion after watching how elephants on a Kenyan game reserve behaved towards a matriarch who fell ill and died.
The dying elephant, named Eleanor by the researchers, was first assisted by an unrelated matriarch from another family.
At one point the helper, called Grace, was observed lifting the collapsed animal to her feet using her tusks.
When Eleanor fell again, Grace tried again to lift her up, this time without success.
Eleanor died where she fell, and was subsequently visited by elephants from her own and four other families.
The animals showed a distinct interest in the body, sniffing it with their trunks, hovering a foot over it, or nudging it with their tusks.
Some of the visiting elephants had previously had no association with Eleanor, said the scientists.
Elephants appeared to be interested in sick, dying or dead members of their community even when they were unrelated.
"It leads to the conclusion that elephants have a generalised response to suffering and death of con-specifics and that this is not restricted to kin," the scientists wrote in a paper to be published in the August issue of the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
The research was led by Dr Iain Douglas-Hamilton, from the Zoology Department at Oxford University, who founded the charity Save the Elephants.
With US colleagues from the University of California, his team monitored members of a population of 900 individually known animals on the Samburu National Reserve in northern Kenya.
Movements of 50 of this group are constantly tracked using global positioning satellite (GPS) collars.
The researchers also took automatically dated and timed photographs to record elephants visiting the dead matriarch.
Most animals apart from humans seem to show little interest in the dead bodies of their own species.
However chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants are all known to show concern for the sick and dead.
Dr Douglas-Hamilton said: "This behaviour in an animal species can be compared to human behaviour, and indicates that such feelings as compassion may not be restricted to our species alone."

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