EleFact Friday: Self Reflection

Happy EleFACT Friday. We all know by now that elephants are emotional beings, highly intelligent and in tune with their feelings. To add to this list of amazing mental and emotional capabilities is the ability to be self-aware. 

This self-awareness, or the ability to recognize that they exist as an individual that is separate from others, is rare in the animal kingdom. This understanding can also lead to recognition that other beings exist and have their own feelings or experiences as well, and is linked to empathy. Humans, apes, and dolphins have all been studied extensively to compare levels of self-awareness, typically done by placing the animal in front of a mirror and analyzing their reactions. Upon initial glance, almost all species tend to make social gestures, inspect the mirror, and even look behind it. But elephants have shown to conduct repetitive tests, like touching their face to see if the reflection does the same. After a while, it is believed that the animal begins to understand that the image in the mirror is itself. 

The tests we have read about only back up what we already know – elephant behavior shows that they are deeply empathetic and capable of incredible emotion. Because of this, it’s important to acknowledge that many elephants in captivity are facing emotional conflict and trauma. This is why sanctuary is important – it allows for these animals to heal from these emotional wounds and experience all of the joys that the world has to offer.

Image of the very recognizable Maia


  1. REPLY
    Sherry says

    Maia says, “Oh gosh I love my sanctuary!” Thank you!

  2. REPLY
    Wim says

    Thank you for this marvelous read.
    Are we smart enough to understand how sentient elephants are?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      I don’t believe we are perceptive enough to understand much of what most animals know and feel.

  3. REPLY
    Barb says

    So lovely is Maia! I have seen elephant studies of self recognition.

  4. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    This photo of Maia, as with photos of the other girls is so transparent, and obvious that these girls are thriving with love and happiness. A tremendous testament to the healing power of GSE sanctuary, and their caretakers. ♥️🐘

  5. REPLY
    Patricia says

    Beauty and brains! You’ve got it all, precious Maia. 😘😘😘

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