Do Animals Cry?

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Certain animals may weep out of sorrow, similar to human baby cries, say animal behavior experts.

Many may have wondered if this was true after news reports last week described a newborn elephant calf at Shendiaoshan Wild Animal Nature Reserve in eastern China. The calf reportedly cried inconsolably for five hours after being stomped on by his mother that then rejected the little elephant. The calf, named Zhuang-zhuang, has since been "adopted" by a keeper and is doing well, according to the news site Metro.

"Some mammals may cry due to loss of contact comfort," animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff explained to Discovery News. (Bekoff wrote about the topic, himself, in this blog.)

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"It could be a hard-wired response to not feeling touch," added Bekoff, former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who, with primatologist Jane Goodall, co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies.

For elephant calves and human infants, crying is probably more out of stress than sorrow, he said. "But stress is an emotion," continued Bekoff, whose book "Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed," will be coming out in November.

He pointed out that scientific studies have proven that chicken, mice and rats display empathy -- feeling another's pain -- which is an even more complex phenomenon. For crying, the animal would have to be of a social nature, possess eye anatomy similar to ours, and have brain structure for processing emotions.

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Dogs are among the most social animals, but scientists and owners have yet to report on a depressed dog crying its eyes out.

"However, dogs and other animals certainly can suffer and may recognize suffering in others," said Brian Hare, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University who co-founded the dog analysis tool "Dognition" that any owner can use.

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