Elephants, according to a new study, comfort each other when they’re sad. They make sympathetic chirping sounds and put their trunks in each other’s mouths. It’s kind of like that super sad scene in Dumbo where his captive mom cradles him in her trunk.
Except a little bit more complicated, because grown-up elephants also touch each other’s genitals.
“Elephants do a lot of touching of others with their trunks. Genital touching is a way for elephants to identify others, and in this case, it may also be a way for the elephants to identify the behavioral state of the others,” said co-author Joshua Plotnik, a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and chief executive of the nonprofit Think Elephants International.
“I think the genital touching, in combination with other touches, specifically in this context, serves to reassure the other elephant,” Plotnik said. “We also see the elephants put their trunks into each others’ mouths, which seems to be a way of saying, ‘I’m here to help you.’ “
So, essentially, elephants have a different definition of what counts as “safe touching” than we do. We have so much to learn from the animals. Or possibly they already learned so much from us.