Saturday, February 22, 2020

Science shorts - Elephants mourn and dogs love

How elephants respond to death

The Washington Post reports research on mourning by elephants: An elephant’s story does not end when it dies. That’s a bit of an inferential leap on my part, but read the story and judge for yourself.

In Kenya, there’s a spot on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River where elephants like to congregate. Tall acacia trees provide shade for naps, and doum palms supply date-like fruits that the animals scarf up by the trunk-full. It was in this place that Victoria, a 55-year-old matriarch well-known to scientists, drew her last breaths in June 2013.

But that was not the end of Victoria’s story.

Several elephants huddled around the body, recalled ecologist Shifra Goldenberg, who was observing the animals with colleagues that day. She noticed that Malasso, a 14-year-old bull, was one of the last to leave. Victoria was his mother.

The scientists do not conclude from these accounts that elephants mourn, an activity that is often attributed to the species. But their response has a common thread, the authors say. When an elephant falls, the loss is acknowledged and investigated by other elephants, even those unrelated to the deceased. Death means something to elephants, in other words — possibly something emotional.

Your dog loves you

The science newsletter phys.org reports on What makes dogs so special? Science says love.

The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.

But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.

Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”

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