Grieving Elephants March in ‘Funeral Procession’ as They Carry the Body of a Dead Calf

By Shelbi Malonson

A procession of elephants carrying the lifeless body of a calf across a road, reminiscent of a funeral procession, was spotted by a forest ranger.

In a heart-wrenching video, posted on Twitter, a mature Indian elephant emerges from forest undergrowth onto a road, while carrying the lifeless body of a baby elephant.

In the video, the elephant rests the body on the road, standing guard over it, waiting as at least eight other members of the herd catch up. The herd, following closely behind, is made up of other mature elephants, as well as younger ones.

The herd continues across the road and back into the forest, walking in a single-file line, conjuring images of a funeral procession.

The spectacle was witnessed by Parveen Kaswan, a forest ranger for the Indian Foreign Service, on June 7. The tear-jerking footage has since gone viral, earning over 13,000 likes and 6,000 retweets on Twitter. Within the post’s more than 600 replies and comments, an overwhelming surge of emotion arose.

“This is heart rending. There’s a lot that humans can learn from animals,” Twitter user Devika said.

Another user, Mohan Alembath, called it a “very touching and emotionally disturbing video.”

Hundreds of others chimed in with comments ranging from sympathy for the grieving herd, to arguments denouncing animal cruelty. Other comments discussed the emotional depth that elephants and other animals seem capable of.

Elephants, among other intelligent animals, are well known for mourning for their dead. Despite the apparent evidence, many scientists caution against the belief that these rituals are motivated by heartbreak.

Elephants have been seen interacting with the bones of their deceased, according to the Smithsonian Magazine. In some cases, these events have been described as “funerals,” where the animals will repeatedly pass by the herd member’s body—even smelling and touching it.

The Smithsonian article proposes that the reason modern science is largely ignorant as to whether animals truly experience grief, is because little to no research into the subject has been conducted.

“Scientists haven’t yet turned serious attention to the study of what might be called ‘comparative thanatology’—the study of death and the practices associated with it. This is perhaps because most humans failed to even entertain the possibility that animals might care about the death of those they love,” the Smithsonian Magazine article reads.

Similar practices have also been observed in other areas of the animal kingdom. One famed example emerged last year, when images circulated of a female killer whale’s journey through Canadian waters. She carried the body of her deceased calf for 17 days before releasing it.

Chimpanzees have also been repeatedly observed giving special care and treatment to their dead. One group of captive chimps cleaned the fur of their deceased family member, and refused to revisit the location where she had died for days afterwards. In another case, a chimpanzee mother used dried grass to clean the teeth of her dead son, which was observed by a team of researchers in Zambia.

Based on similar sightings, many scientists involved believe that chimpanzees do feel some sensitivity to the remains of their dead, and continue to feel and act on social bonds formed before death.

Parveen Kaswan later retweeted his original video, adding some potential insight into elephant funeral practices.

“There are theories which talk about ancient elephant cemeteries in forest,” he wrote, adding that he had not found any conclusive evidence.