Elephants truly demonstrate their incredible insight and ability to read the needs and desires of other living creatures. Not only do they perceive these; they also act in such a way as to accommodate certain needs and even satisfy these in some cases. At times, elephants will assist another creature at the risk of its own safety. This capacity to act based on compassion and not survival instincts is even rare in human beings.
There are many examples the world over of elephants who have displayed this advanced sense of altruism with no benefit to themselves. One is that of a cow who relentlessly worked to save a baby rhinoceros that was stuck in the mud despite the attacks of its mother on the elephant. Another astounding record tells of a ranch herder who was struck off his camel by a charging matriarch. His leg was broken and he was alone. When the search party was dispatched and eventually found him that evening, he had been dragged to a shaded area and protected all the while by one of the other cows, who had split from the herd to return to him and regularly touched him with her trunk in a gesture of comfort and reassurance. A working elephant in India refused to lower one of the logs it was carrying that day. When the elephant trainer walked in front of her to see why she was not cooperating, he found a dog sleeping in the hole in which she was to drop her log. She would not lower the timber until the dog had moved out of danger.
This sense of altruism is also clear amongst the members of the herd. The birth of a calf is a herd activity, as each cow participates and celebrates in the event. Even after its birth, the calf is cared for by the other cows; being allowed to suckle from any female able to provide it with milk. Not only does this ensure that the herd is as strong and healthy as possible in a physical sense, but it also strengthens the individual bonds and reinforces the sense of altruism.
The matriarch, which is usually the strongest, largest and oldest female of the herd, has the responsibility to protect her herd. In true altruistic style, she will defend and protect them at any cost, even at that of her own valuable life.
Despite the sheer horror inflicted on such magnificent animals by human beings, elephants have even been known to either avoid harming a human, or even protecting them, as shown by the example above. In some cases, the elephant has had to retreat from the situation itself in order to ensure that the human is not afraid or harmed. Considering the elephant’s memory and insight, it is remarkable that it would choose not to harm the beast that has contributed so much to its slaughter and mistreatment. This is further testimony to the intellectual and social superiority of the beautiful elephant.