We're not crying, you're crying!
Known as some of the animal kingdom's most complex social creatures, elephants in captivity appear to enjoy their interactions with humans — and a new study suggests that zoo visitors seem to breathe new life into them.
The study, published in the journal Animals and conducted by researchers at the United Kingdom's Nottingham Trent and Harper Adams universities, took a quantitative look at previous papers regarding zoo animal behavior and found that elephants appear to react positively to the presence of humans.
"The team found significant results regarding elephants, with social activity among the animals increasing and repetitive [behaviors] — often indicating boredom in animals — decreasing during public feedings," reads a press release about the paper.
Animal boredom and the repetitive behaviors that accompany it have been studied fairly extensively over the past decade. In 2017, after a landmark paper about animal boredom was published in the journal Animal Behaviour, psychologist and chimp trauma specialist Stacy Lopresti-Goodman described the disturbing behaviors that bored animals — including elephants — often engage in.
"Boredom in captivity can absolutely lead to depression," Lopresti-Goodman told NPR at the time. "Many animals in captivity engage in abnormal, repetitive behaviors, like pacing and self-biting, in an attempt to self-stimulate in the absence of social, cognitive, or environmental stimulation."
The researchers found that the more visitors showed up to public feedings, the less elephants moped around, and the more they engaged in healthy active behaviors like foraging, which even persisted after the public feedings.
Along with elephants, the British researchers found that other animals including "penguins, jaguars, grizzly bears, polar bears, cheetahs, servals, banteng and black-tailed prairie dogs" seemed to exhibit positive responses to visitors.
Others, however, like flightless birds, marsupials, ostriches, and hedgehogs, didn't dig visitors as much, with scientists deeming the presence of humans generally "neutral" overall.
All the same, it's great (and very sweet) to learn that elephants seem to enjoy humans as much as we enjoy them — and given how threatened they still are, that's definitely a good thing.
More on animal antics: Lonely Parrots Love Video Chatting With Each Other, Study Finds