Everybody cries sometime

Understanding Why Elephants Cry

Elephants are very sensitive and social animals that prefer to live in large family groups. These animals have been known to display very human-like emotions, and this is why the topic of whether or not elephants cry keeps gaining attention. At the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, we firmly believe that these complex animals can feel emotions and react accordingly, leading to them crying in response to different situations.

People have witnessed elephants showing empathy towards other members of their family group. They quickly protect and comfort these family members and they take turns watching the calves of the group. Elephants also show a great amount of interest in deceased elephants’ bones or ivory. So, it’s only natural that people wonder if elephants cry and if they feel emotions like humans are prone to experiencing.

Reasons Why Elephants May Cry

As we stated above, elephants have the capacity of feeling several different emotions. An emotional response would be to cry in times of extreme stress or sadness.


  • A common emotional response to fear is to cry. Because elephants live in such tight-knit family units, they could cry if someone or something was threatening part of their group. It’s a response to a higher emotional build up and this can happen in times of fear. Crying acts like a release for emotions, and the group could influence and heighten the feelings of fear.


  • As elephants grow, they experience tight emotional bonds with members of their group and they seem to understand when one dies. They pay special attention to deceased elephants’ remains, and they have even been known to bury a deceased’s remains under vegetation. They can cry in response to the loss of one of their family or herd. The surviving elephants have also demonstrated distress or altered behaviour patterns when one member dies.


  • An elephant is a social animal, and they don’t typically do well on their own. They need the social interaction of their family group to stay happy and healthy. If they’re alone, elephants can experience loneliness that can lead to crying and tears. There have also been instances of captive elephants kept in zoos exhibiting signs of depression at being separated from their family group and deeply unhappy about it.


  • Tears are a common response to pain stimulus. If an elephant feels pain, they can react accordingly by shedding tears. How long and how hard they cry for is usually dependent on how deep the pain goes or how constant it is. So, an elephant that feels a small amount of pain may shed tears for a short while, while an elephant that was traumatised may shed tears for a longer period. It’s an emotional release.

Reasons Why There Is No Hard Evidence to Support Elephants Crying

If you do a simple search on the Internet, you’ll find people who believe that elephants can’t cry because they don’t have the emotional capacity and people who absolutely believe that elephants can cry for emotional reasons.

However, the one thing both sides seem to agree on is the fact that it would be extremely hard for scientists to be certain one way or the other because they can’t get definitive answers from the elephants themselves. They do say that elephants can produce and shed tears, but they’re uncertain as to whether this is because they must lubricate their eyes or if it’s due to emotions.

If you compare this to humans, we think that humans can cry because of emotional responses coupled with the fact that these emotions have somehow directly impacted the person’s life. With elephants, it’s impossible for anyone to definitively tell if they cry as an emotional response to something that impacted their lives. You can’t measure these emotions, and you can only experience it first-hand. This is one of the main reasons why there isn’t any definitive evidence to suggest that elephants cry in response to emotions.

However, if you can study and interact with elephants like the staff at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, you would see that elephants certainly seem to show emotions and behave differently in response to emotional stimulus. We invite you to book a trip to one of our locations and decide for yourself if these beautiful animals are capable of crying.

The Matriarch Project