Video Shows Elephants Taking Part in Dead Calf’s Heartbreaking ‘Funeral Procession’

August 18, 2019 Updated: August 24, 2019

The jury’s out on whether or not animals experience “grief” in the same way that humans do. However, a heart-wrenching video of Indian elephants enacting what looks like a “funeral” for a young member of their herd has sparked an emotional debate on social media.

The extraordinary footage was shared on Twitter by Parveen Kaswan, a forest ranger in the Indian Foreign Service, on Friday, June 7, 2019. “This will move you!” Parveen wrote. “Funeral procession of the weeping elephants carrying dead body of the child elephant. The family just don’t want to leave the baby.”

Parveen’s moving clip depicts a grown adult elephant emerging from dense woodland by the side of a road. The elephant is carrying the lifeless body of a deceased calf with its trunk, testament not only to the strength and dexterity of the elephant but also to the dedication of the herd.

The elephant lays the calf’s body on the road as the rest of the herd slowly follows in a solemn procession, resembling a traditional funeral line. As the group assembles, other members of the herd interact with the calf’s lifeless body. A couple of adult elephants nudge and regard the body before another adult lifts it once again.

The herd slowly moves on, as one, into the dense forest on the opposite side of the road. Parveen’s footage also depicts a number of stationary vehicles; the drivers have exited their vehicles and stand by, watching the touching scene from a respectful distance.

Elephants can be fiercely protective of their young, and if the intensity of their grief can truly rival human emotion, then passersby were sensible to keep their distance from these beautiful, powerful creatures. The clip provoked hugely emotional responses on Twitter; to date, Parveen’s post has amassed almost 15,000 “likes” and almost 7,000 retweets.

“This is heart-rending,” one Twitter user responded. “There’s a lot that humans can learn from animals.” Another observed: “[It’s] as if mother elephant had brought the carcass on the street, just to show to the humans.”

Fascinatingly, elephants are not the only species that are known to mourn their dead. The world-famous museum and research institution The Smithsonian claims that elephants “take a great interest in the bones of their deceased” and they frequently exhibit mourning behaviors for dead relatives in the wild.

Elephants live in close-knit herds and form strong familial bonds throughout their long lives. An Indian elephant can live up to 70 years in the wild, compared to a troubling 48 years in captivity.

According to the Daily Mail, a video of three separate elephant herds visiting the deceased body of a matriarch to touch the corpse was shared by a doctoral student in 2016. To many, the video exemplified the animals’ curious exploration of what it really meant to die, and a deep emotional bond that provoked grief when a member of the herd passed away.

Forest ranger Parveen’s cry of “This will move you!” does not fall on deaf ears. The touching scene is a poignant reminder to have compassion. We are not alone in our grief; loss of life affects us all.