They come, trunks swinging,
the matriarch, her daughters,
and their young,
swaying along the grassy veld,
ponderous steps shaking the earth.
She startles, the Old Grandmother,
when she comes to bones alongside the path:
elephant bones, the bones of her kin.
Distress, low rumbles among the herd,
swaying from side to side.
Delicately, then, their trunks
whiff along the line of bones,
sensing, detecting, remembering.
They understand a trauma happened here.
They smell Man on the bones, on the land.
With love, the Old One tenderly lifts a bone,
carries it a little way,
then brings it back and gently sets it down.
She is saying she wants the bones
to rise and follow her,
to be back in the body as once they were,
and walking free under
the arching African sky.
As she sets it back down, she acknowledges
that, sadly, this cannot be.
She gathers her herd, calls to the little ones,
and, with a low rumble,
slowly, reverent with remembering,
full of sad thoughts,
they all move on.
I wrote this poem before finding the film, as I knew this from reading about elephants, that they recognize the bones of their kin, when they pass sites where elephants have been poached and killed. They stop and spend hours with the bones, caressing and smelling them with their trunks. Sometimes one will lift a bone, carry it for a few moments, then return it to where it had fallen. As if in recognition of a clan member, and their wish that this had not befallen her. Elephants remember long, and feel much.
The only thing I disagree with in the video is the statement that only humans and elephants honour their dead in this way. I know other animals do as well. I have seen it in wolves, dogs, horses and cats, and have read about it in lions. Knowing all animal families care about each other, I am certain all species feel grief at the passing of their kin.