Elephants are extremely intelligent creatures. They have been shown to be empathetic, emotionally sensitive, and they’re quite possibly onto the fact that humans pose a threat. They also get really, really excited when someone in their group has sex. You may think that your friends are a bit intrusive by asking for details or giving you high fives after the fact, but they don’t have anything on elephants. Sure, animals don’t typically require a lot of privacy when doing the deed, but a video from the Elephant Listening Project shows that the rest of their family can become a little too supportive.
Scientists have known about a phenomenon known as mating pandemonium for about 25 years. Sound exciting? Well, it totally is. It begins with the couple themselves who are ready to mate. Female elephants mate about once every four years. When she goes into estrus, she makes a loud rumbling sound. Even once she finds a male, she continues to rumble on the off chance that a bigger, stronger male would like to take over. If there are no other takers, they get right to it.
As the pair begins, the entire family surrounds them, trumpeting loudly as they copulate. Elephants from all age groups, even the calves, seem to be excited about the event. They go in circles around the pair, making incredible amounts of noise to cheer them on while they urinate and defecate all over the place. Once the two have finished, the bystanders immediately descend upon them. They check the ground and the elephants themselves for seminal and vaginal fluids, smelling and tasting them. (Let’s all take a moment to be thankful that humans don’t do this.)
It isn’t entirely clear why the others are so closely involved in the mating process, though it has been suggested that others do it to check out the health of the couple. Other females who may be interested in the male can smell and taste his seminal fluid in order to pick up on clues regarding his virility, while younger males might also get clues about the female’s fertility.
This video was created by Peter Wrege, who used infrared cameras to obtain a unique view of this activity back in 2012. These African forest elephants appeared in a clearing in the Dzanga forest in the Central African Republic. The mating pair appear yellow, indicating their increased body temperature.
Though mating pandemonium for African forest elephants typically occurs at night, it has been seen in the daylight with savannah elephants in Kenya:
Due to extensive poaching, elephant populations are plummeting. It’s always great to hear about elephants mating and replenishing their numbers. I’m truly happy for them and am cheering them on… but not in the “up close and personal” way that they are probably used to.
[Hat tip: Science Friday]