Can Elephants Cry? (What Do Their Tears Mean)

These elephants are known to be intelligent species that can feel complex emotions, are sensitive, and caring just like humans. But there is no concrete information that would tell that crying animals is closely associated with various emotions.

Can elephants cry? These mammals cannot cry out of sadness. Their tears do not associate with the emotion that they feel. Thus, tears are more likely an accumulated liquid only to protect its eyes from any debris.

Scientific research would support the fact that this nonhuman animal may express a wide array of emotions. Elephants are said to mourn the death of their loved ones, feel sad when rejected, etc. They have no shame in expressing their fear and even sadness.

This article will show you the facts behind this elephant’s crying, its sound, the meaning of these tears, and how they express their sadness.

Why Elephants Cry?

These mammals don’t cry because of sadness. Elephants seem to be crying because of the noticeable liquid found in the corners of their eyes.

It is a fact that only human beings are capable of producing emotional tears.

The reason elephants cry is because of adaptation that occurs during the primitive time of their ancestors.

Elephants repurpose other glands within their eyes effectively to produce the same type of fluid. This fluid will maintain the moisture in their eyes.

In addition to that, these creatures, like any other mammals, have a fluid-producing gland on their third eyelid. It contains mucous, which makes the consistency of their tear film unique among most mammals.

Another fact is that elephants look like crying because they lack the drainage canals in which most mammals have. These canals are supposed to wick the moisture away.

Since the fluid has nowhere to go, it would accumulate in the inner corner of their eyes. Thus, it spills out from there down to its face. That makes the elephant look like it is really crying.

Do Elephants Cry Out Of Sadness?

Research has found that elephants are experiencing emotions similar to human beings. They can feel sadness, joy, love, jealousy, grief, compassion, and distress. 

This sadness and grief are unique to elephants among the members of the animal world.

But this species does not cry out of sadness. 

A mammal-like elephant is capable of producing tears but for eye lubrication only. They do not physically produce tears associated with a sad emotion.

Do Elephants Have Tear Ducts?

Based on science, elephants don’t have tear ducts that produce a tear. This tear duct acts as draining away the liquid that is secreted in the eyes, which flush out debris.

What elephants have and help them keep mud or dust away from their eyes is their nictitating membrane or third eyelid.

Aside from lacking tear ducts, these species do not also have any piece of the typical mammalian lacrimal apparatus.

This only means elephants don’t have lacrimal glands and no canals for drainage of tear liquid going to the nasal cavities. In other words, this animal does not produce a tear.

Their lack of tear ducts is due to their semi-aquatic past. The elephant’s primitive ancestors are known to live in freshwaters.

elephant eye

Do Elephants Have Emotions?

Elephants do have emotions. They are the largest inland mammal that is an enthusiastically expressive species. Elephants are also considered to be one of the most sentimental and emotional species.

Researchers cannot deny that elephants’ emotions are very present and may rival those of humans.

These mammals express joy and happiness, especially when they are with their loved ones, such as family and friends. They usually display this emotion by playing games and greeting friends.

Elephants are also known for their maternal love for their calf. There is no greater than this affection that they have for their offspring.

Female elephants typically show this emotion by keeping their calf walking under them. This mammal’s motherly instinct makes sure that its calf is safe from any predators and protected from the heat of the sun.

Aside from those, these large animals also feel grief, rage, and stress. Elephants even remember and mourn the loss of their loved ones.

They usually stand near the remains and may touch the bones of the dead, smell it, and turn it over as if they caress the bones using its trunk.

However, despite this behavior, science cannot simply measure the elephant’s emotions. Thus, it is not proven that elephants may experience 100% the same emotions that humans have.

What Do Elephants Do When They Are Sad?

Studies are saying that elephants, especially the female ones, experience a period of sadness.

These elephants’ sadness is usually associated with the death of a loved one. Perhaps, a mother elephant may become sad because of the death of its calf.

In times of despair, they would usually walk near their dead loved ones, pause, and caressed them through their trunk or feet. Some elephants would express their sadness by gathering around in groups as if they are holding a funeral.

There are also reported cases stating that the elephant’s sadness is evident through its physical disposition. Its eyes may look sunken, and its eyes are drooping. Also, its mood is miserable.

Elephant Crying Sound

Elephants can produce a crying sound. It is also known as a trumpet. This sound is considered as their cue for survival. 

These mammals sound like this as a signal of excitement, aggression, and distress. This trumpeting sound can be heard up to six miles away.

Here’s a video showing an elephant crying and its crying sound:

Baby Elephant Crying

Elephants don’t cry the way a human does. A baby elephant’s cry is not associated with a sad or low emotion.

According to science, emotional tears are exclusively for humans only. However, this mammal may have experienced complex emotions, which could include sadness.

Reports say that baby elephants have been in sorrow or sadness because they were left rejected or abandoned by their mother elephant.

This baby mammal expressed its sadness in different ways. They would use their behavior to convey their sadness.

Some reports would say that this animal has many postural cues, vocalizations, and even their odors let other elephants know that they are not happy.

Here’s a video of a wild baby elephant expressing its sadness and waiting for humans to rescue him:


In summary, elephants are brilliant mammals. They are capable of feeling sad, happy, excited, and the like which humans also feel.

However, tears out of sadness are incredibly unique only to human beings. There has been no study that supports the claim that elephants show sadness through crying.

They don’t have a tear duct, and it is safe to say that these tears may have been a product only of an accumulated liquid around its eyes.

Scientifically speaking, these liquids are for maintaining their eye’s moisture and nothing else. Aside from that, they will look like they’re crying because of its tears flowing down its face. But this happens because they lack a drainage canal in their eyes that supposedly wicks the moisture away as other mammals do.

Nonetheless, elephants, in some way, are like people. They feel pain and sorrow, especially when it comes to their loved ones.

Scientists believe that they are capable of complex thoughts and feelings. Thus, they also establish a strong attachment towards their family members. It is the reason why these animals genuinely deserve to be treated with sensitivity and respect.


Image credits – Canva

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I'm David, and safari has been my passion since I was a little boy - I grew up in South Africa. I love to help spread knowledge about safari, so let me know if you have any questions. Read more