Many people believe they have witnessed elephants crying, whether they are in poor conditions in captivity or being rescued for a new life, we take their tears as a demonstration of their feelings. To date there is no evidence that the tears of an elephant are linked to their emotions. We do however know that elephants are capable of feeling all kinds of emotions such as love, happiness, fear and loss. Though they may not physically cry, our elephants are able to show us how they are feeling with their body language and behavior.
In June 2015, 19 elephants who were going to be separated and sold back into the tourist industry, where they would once again live the lives of slaves, were given a second chance at life when they were brought to Elephant Nature Park. Among these 19 elephants were 2 mothers and their calves who could now live at Elephant Nature Park where they would no longer need to fear separation. Mae Pon and her daughter 2 year old Hansa and Mae Sai Ngern (also known as Baitoey) and 4 year old Kham La were able to begin their new lives of freedom with each other and these mothers could now watch their daughters grow without the fear of losing them. During her time at the park, Hansa gathered a large number of nannies who were devoted to her safety and would care for her each day. Surrounded by a family of 12, Hansa would lead the group around the park and all would come running to her side if she sounded distressed. With her group of devote nannies following her, Hansa was able to enjoy life doing what elephants do best.
In September 2015, Hansa sadly passed away after suffering from EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus). Her unexpected death left many at Elephant Nature Park heartbroken, both humans and elephants alike. Having lost a calf in the past, Mae Pon was deeply distressed at the loss of her daughter. Her family surrounded her offering comfort, but nothing seemed to help fill the whole in her heart. If it appeared that Mae Pon was in distress, the family would surround her in order to keep her calm. The loss of Hansa affected many of the elephants, including young Manao who deeply cared for Hansa and would always stay by her side.
Over time, the elephants of the family began to flock towards young Kham La, who before hand, spent most of her time with her mother Baitoey mending their relationship after their bond had been severed when Kham La was forced to undergo the crush. The interest in Kham La appeared to help the elephants to recover after the loss of Hansa. With this new baby to focus on and love, the family began to return to normal. The same, sadly, cannot be said for Mae Pon. Whether Kham La reminded her of her late daughter or she was jealous that Kham La was with the family and Hansa had been taken, Mae Pon would not accept her and could even be seen giving her a swift kick or shoving her if Kham La got too close. Spending a lot of time in the river, Mae Pon seemed to be at peace while lying in the water. To those who looked on, it appeared that Mae Pon may have been trying to wash away her grief.
As the weeks continued, a change could be seen in Mae Pon, who seemed to be following Kham La around and running to her side if she called and Mae Pon appeared to be taking steps in the road to recovery. Unfortunately, soon after taking the position of nanny, once again Mae Pon was unsure of her feeling towards, not only Kham La but also the rest of the herd. The emotional turmoil that Mae Pon was suffering meant that she was unable to decide what she wanted. Did she want to care for Kham La or was her broken heart to fresh to heal? Confused about her feelings towards Kham La, Mae Pon continued to come and go from her nanny position. As with many female elephants who lose their calves, Mae Pon would become aggressive and inconsolable. This continuous aggression caused Mae Pon to be separated from the herd. However, throughout her ordeal one elephant who has stood strong by her side has been Kham Peng. Supporting her friend through the loss of her calf and her continuous mood swings, Kham Peng proved to be loyal and she was not about to give up on her friend. Mae Pon and Kham Peng have grown closer over the past several months and Kham Peng is never far from Mae Pon’s side. As time goes by, Mae Pon seems content spending time with her best friend.
Though we may never know if an elephant’s tears are caused by their emotions, it is very clear that they have their own way of expressing themselves. Through the deep pain of separation that many of our females have suffered having their calves ripped away, we can see that each elephant deals with their emotions in their own way. With the love of their families and friends, they are able to begin a new life where, though they may not forget, they can recover from the loss of their loved ones. It is through the bonds that they share with one another that they are able to comfort each other, recognize the signs of sadness and also help each other grieve.