EleFact Friday: Emotional Understanding in Elephants

We’ve spent quite a bit of time lately talking about the emotional abilities of elephants, especially as they navigate grief. Elephants are highly emotionally intelligent animals, as we all know and have seen firsthand through the experiences we share with the ladies of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. For today’s EleFACT, we’ll examine how biology has helped these animals become the emotional beings they are. 

It’s been proven that not only are elephants large bodied, but they also have quite sizable brains. Studies have shown that elephants have a very big and highly complex hippocampus, the part of the brain that greatly contributes to emotion, is connected to short and long term memory, and aids in navigation. Researchers have found that the elephant hippocampus takes up 0.7% of the central structures of the brain in elephants, as compared to only 0.5% in humans. 

Biologically, we can pretty safely attribute the emotional capabilities of elephants to their mental makeup – but it seems as if the empathy and comfort that we have witnessed, especially in the last few weeks as Guillermina and the other girls process Pocha’s passing, come from a place deeper than their brains. Elephants are complex and we may never be able to totally understand some things about how they feel, what they know, and what they remember. Their ability to comfort one another (and even us, at times), communicate emotionally, and understand the feelings of others may never be totally explained; some things may just be their secrets to keep.

Photo of Rana


  1. REPLY
    Pam says

    No wonder we are able to develop such a deep heart connection with elephants, soul to soul … Great article, thank you.

  2. REPLY
    Tammy says

    There is no animal quite like an elephant they have so much to teach humans if we would just pay attention. They are very special so amazing in many ways strong so powerful yet gentle and loving very protective of family it means everything to them so compassionate they truly embody “it takes a village” leaving no one behind no matter what they will give their life if necessary the respect the honor they show to those who have passed on very heartwarming I’ve never seen anything like this before didn’t know just how emotional the herd members were until sweet Ramba so thank you for allowing us the opportunity to be part of these life changing experiences it deeply touched my heart and why im part of this incredible sanctuary to this day! Elephants have such an uncanny ability to understand one another it’s simply magical 💞🐘😊

  3. REPLY
    Carey says

    It’s really quite like humans, we know that biology doesn’t explain everything, environment, life experience, individual understanding and perception all feed in to emotional capability, mental health or I’ll health, Nature and Nurture. from Save The Asian Elephant

  4. REPLY
    Viviana Gallo says

    Me encanta aprender con este tipo de artículos tan interesantes. Gracias!! Conocer a estos seres maravillosos nos ayuda a defender su existencia en este hermoso planeta. Abrazos a todos!!

  5. REPLY
    Wim says

    Yes, there’s a lot humans can learn from elephants. They seem to create the perfect herd system where everyone participates.

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    María Elizabeth Alvarez says

    They are such fantastic beings!!

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    Susy says

    Gracias por agregar información a todo lo que con el tiempo he ido aprendiendo de los elefantes. Desde que conocí a Pocha and Guille, descubrí un mundo diferente, el mundo elefante. Me llegaron al corazón y no me despego de ellos. Leo, averiguo, aprendo y amo, demuestran fortaleza, resiliencia y una profunda sensibilidad. Todos los días reviso sus informes, los espero ansiosa, alegra mí corazón observar a los elefantes del Santuario. Muchas gracias

  8. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    Thanks Sara

  9. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    Reading the information about the complex emotions of elephants, and how emotional and supportive to each other in times of loss is absolutely amazing. I have known this about the grief they show when one of their herd members pass, but witnessing their compassion and empathy for Guillermina has warmed my heart. It also brings to light what a travesty the abuse the peace-loving elephants suffer while in captivity. So very thankful for GSE.

  10. REPLY
    John says


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