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African Elephants, Humans, and Mourning of the Dead

As anyone who knows me knows, I have been heavily influenced by the teachings of the great Fillmore Skinny, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the esteemed Columbia University. Professor Skinny's primary thesis is that all of the behavior that we believe makes us distinctively human has direct analogs in other animals. Add another kind of beahvior to the list: mourning of the dead. The New York Times Sunday magazine reports, in connection with a cover story about the collective breakdown of elephant society, that African elephants conduct weeklong vigils over the bodies of fallen colleagues. The cover their friends' bodys with dirt and brush and will return to the site of the grave for years. Remarkably, when one member of an elephant group is harmed, all of the members of the group are aware of it (not unlike the Star Trek episode where Spock says that he is aware that an entire ship of Vulcans have died, eben though they are light years apart). To my mind, this all suggests that elephants have an even more developed sense of empathy than humans and is another chink in the armor of human-centric claims of the uniquesness of mankind. Onward, Skinny!