On Monday night in India, an angry elephant walked into the village of Olgara from the forest and smashed a house to pieces. This kind of behavior is no longer unusual. As human population grows and elephants are pushed out of their homes, they wander into towns in search of food. And when humans attack them, the elephants fight back.
But when this particular elephant, who is known to have already killed three people and destroyed 17 houses in the last year, pulled the house down and began to walk away, he heard a baby crying.
The baby was buried under rubble and debris. The elephant turned around, went back to the house and, according to the Times of India:
… carefully removed every last bit of stone, brick and mortar from the infant’s body before heading back to the forest.
The father said the family was having dinner when they heard a “cracking sound” and then a huge crash coming from the bedroom.
“The tusker started moving away but when our child started crying again, it returned and used its trunk to remove the debris.”
According to the baby’s mother:
“The tusker saved my daughter after breaking down the door and smashing a wall. We watched amazed as it gently removed the debris that had fallen on her. It’s a miracle.”
The girl had only minor injuries, and next day the elephant was seen back in the forest.
What does it say that while fighting back against humans, they will stop to rescue or protect a baby?
What happened is not unique. According to The Times, a similar incident was reported in another small village, Madarihat, about six months ago when an elephant herd carefully removed a little girl from harm’s way before smashing several houses.
What does this tell us? I asked Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She wrote back:
I think this elephant was angry, understandably, but had the presence of mind to not want to actually hurt someone, especially an innocent baby. I think his behavior is a poignant reminder that we are not the only species capable of compassion.
But could there be another explanation? Maybe he was just investigating an interesting new sound?
I would say that is implausible. If the elephant was just responding to the crying baby he would have investigated the baby more. But, he simply removed the debris and walked away – showing that his intention was simply to help the baby.
Forest Officer Om Prakash said the elephants never harm people unless they’re attacked first. “What’s really surprising is that this elephant left the little girl alive even after damaging the house,” he said. “It seems to have a heart, too.”
Elephants are under attack by humans in Africa and Asia. We are driving them to extinction. These highly intelligent animals are not by nature hostile to humans. But they know that they are being driven to extinction, and they are fighting back.
What does it say that while fighting back, they will stop to rescue or protect a baby who they clearly understand is not part of their battle?