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Elephant love – Mother and baby reunited in display of affection

By Stephen Morgan     Apr 12, 2015 in Environment
An incredibly moving video of a mother and baby elephant reunited in a beautiful display of love, joy and affection has surfaced on the web. Watch as they caress and flap their ears in excitement, after having been parted from one another for 3 years.
They say an elephant never forgets and if you needed proof of it, this tear-jerking video confirms that their emotional bonds are never lost.
After 3 years apart, a mother and baby elephant were eventually reunited when the infant was rescued from its owners. She had been separated from her mother when she was only three and half years old, after being sold to provide rides for tourists in Thailand.
Orphaned, the little elephant, called Me-Bai, was put through a “training crush,” which Care2.com says is a "brutal practice as a centuries-old ritual intended to domesticate young elephants through pain and fear, where they’re subjected to beatings and deprived of sleep, water and food to break their spirits and make them more submissive to their owners."
Me-Bai struggled to keep up with the demands of her captors and eventually began to lose weight dramatically. Without the strength to carry the visitors, she became worthless to her owners and was luckily rescued by members of the Elephant Nature Park sanctuary.
After a four day, 62-mile (100km) trek through the jungle, Me-Bai arrived at the Elephant sanctuary, where she was reunited with her mother, Mae Yui. Her mother had also been working in the nearby tourist industry and the wild life activists managed to convince her owners to retire her, says the Mail Online. The mother is believed to be about 30 years old.
The Huffington Post quotes from the Elephant Nature Park's blog post about the reunion "When [Me-Bai] first arrived, she was quite nervous and we took care to feed her well until she was healthy again. We also began to search what had become of her mother. We found that her mother was working in the trekking camp."
Preston Foerder, a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga who studies elephant behavior, told National Geographic that,
"In the wild, elephants typically stay with their mothers at least until they are adolescents, around 11 years old. Elephant years are pretty close to human years.”
National Geographic explains that elephants comfort their companions by approaching them, chirping softly and stroking their head and genitals, which can be seen in the video.
This is typical behavior says Foerder. "Their trunks are very sensitive, so they communicate with touch, as well as scent and sound."
Caressing each other with their trunks is part of the sophisticated communication system elephants have. In an article on the subject, National Geographic says that,
"Mothers and other family members caress the young in many different ways, by wrapping a trunk over the calf’s back leg. Mothers also wrap their trunks around the calf’s belly, over its shoulder, and under its neck, often touching its mouth. A gentle rumbling sound often accompanies the caress gesture."
The rapid flapping of their ears we see all the time in the video, is also a well documented sign of happiness and bonding among elephants. In its list of elephant gestures, ElephantVoices.org says,
"Rapid-Ear-Flapping is usually observed in association with Head-Raising and, often, brief Ear-Folding. This posture is almost always seen in the context of greeting or bonding interactions and during other excited, social and chorused calling."
The sanctuary says that they are aiming to "rehabilitate Mae Yui and Me-Bai so that they can return to the wild and live free.” However, Foerder cautions that releasing former work elephants into the wild isn't easy, since they have become used to humans and can end up in trouble.
Asian elephants are considered to be an endangered species by The World Conservation Union, since they are under constant threat from hunting and widespread destruction of their habitat.
Joyce Poole, a National Geographic explorer who studies elephant behavior, says,
"The heart-touching story about the reunion of a mother and baby elephant illustrates beautifully the incredible memories and love elephants have for one another."
"It is with this science-based understanding of elephants as empathetic beings that we ask [countries to amend their treaties] to protect elephants from brutal capture, separation from family, and export to zoos.”
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