In the 1990s a group of young elephants saved from culling operations in the Kruger National Park, South Africa, was relocated to a private reserve close to the Botswana border. A few years later, the 18 years old Jane arrived from Zimbabwe, where she grew up as an orphan. The youngsters were astonished and incredibly excited when they saw her!

The following day, five young males were let into close proximity to her. Usually a bunch of bullying rascals, the young males were clearly awe-struck and suddenly turned into acting like small and helpless elephants. They stood around Jane and gingerly touched her with their five little trunks. Jane stood stoically taking on this new situation of suddenly acquiring five babies at a time. After 10 weeks of confinement and acquaintance with other orphans, Jane was released together with a whopping number of 13 younger elephants.

The youngest male named Squeak was suckling and Jane adopted him as her offspring. Squeak was allowed to feed with Jane, sleep near her or under her belly, suckling regularly and receiving Jane’s full attention and care.

This remarkable relationship of orphans with Jane highlights the intelligence of elephants and their amazing ability to communicate ideas to one another. Our knowledge of elephant emotions, cognition and psychology has greatly increased in the last decades. They have feelings, a very strong sense of family, show emotions and empathy and have a knowledge of self, which so far is only seen in the great apes (including humans) and dolphins.

Photo credits and text: Marion Garaï of Space for Elephants