Asian elephants show empathy like humans, apes, dogs, and certain birds. When members of the herd sense stress in another elephant they make sounds, use their trunks and other touching actions to show they are supporting and caring for the stressed member. This is the herd tendency of a species that relies on each other for survival.
Researchers watched the elephants for some time to see how they act and interact with each other. Stressors come from their environment and can include anything from potential predators to mating partners. When an elephant becomes stressed they erect their tails, flare their ears, and sometimes make other sounds and motions.
The behavior is part of their ability to protect each other and keep order within their herd. When stress occurs other elephants rally around to protect the stressed individual. This helps in ensuring mutual protection among the members and developing a protective collective stance. Likewise, elephants were known to celebrate births and mourn deaths.
As humans we often make the assumption that animals can’t empathize with others. Other research has found that elephants can both understand human actions as well as help along injured herd mates. The actions suggest a collective intelligence to the animals and their ability to stay together in the environment for mutual protection and survival.