Are Elephants Friendly? [Answered]

Photo: Emmy Liana Dewi / Shutterstock

With large brains that can weigh as much as 13 pounds, it’s not surprising that elephants are highly intelligent and possess incredible memories. But whether this intelligence carries over into social intelligence is another topic altogether.

Are elephants friendly?

Elephants are very friendly toward other elephants, living in family groups and often forming lifelong friendships. Elephants are thought to be some of the most empathetic animals in existence, but their friendliness toward each other doesn’t necessarily extend to humans. When they feel threatened or vulnerable, elephants can carry out dangerous attacks to protect themselves.

Continue reading to learn about how elephants act toward humans. We’ll discuss their friendliness in communication, social behavior, and relationships.

We’ll also talk about whether elephants enjoy being petted by humans.

Are Elephants Friendly?

Elephants are often given the nickname “gentle giants,” and this term reflects their friendly nature. Below, learn about their friendliness in various situations.

Friendliness Toward Humans

It’s thought that elephants can be friendly toward humans if they’re raised among them. This is the case for elephants that are born and raised in captivity, such as in a zoo setting.

However, when elephants feel threatened or vulnerable, they can become very aggressive.

Elephants that have grown up in their natural habitat, rather than in captivity, are much less likely to be considered “friendly,” and humans should generally keep their distance from them.

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Because elephants are so large and strong, they can do quite a bit of harm and damage. Between January 2000 and June 2020, over 400 human deaths were reported as the result of elephant attacks.

Friendliness in Communication

Elephants are highly social animals that communicate in a variety of different ways. 

One of these ways is through sound. Elephants vocalize to each other using as many as 70 different calls and sounds that can range from a low rumble to a loud trumpeting noise.

Some of the sounds elephants make are called infrasounds, which are sounds with such a low frequency that humans can’t hear them.

However, for elephants, these infrasounds can be heard as far as 14 kilometers (more than 8.5 miles) away. 

There’s recent evidence suggesting that elephants also communicate using seismic waves. These waves move through the ground and are picked up by the elephants’ feet. 

Not only do elephants use vocalizations and seismic waves to communicate, but they also communicate through smell.

One important example is when female elephants leave chemical signs in their waste telling the male elephants they’re ready to mate.

Friendliness in Social Behavior

Elephants live in large, family-oriented groups throughout their lives. Female elephants are rarely found very far from their mothers, even as they grow up and become adults themselves. 

Groups of elephants are typically led by a leader called a matriarch, who is most often the oldest female. The remainder of the group is made up of the matriarch’s offspring, especially the female offspring. 

Male elephants tend to leave the group upon reaching adolescence and are often called bull elephants or bachelors. Still, even when they leave the group, they usually remain nearby enough to watch over their young.

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Friendliness in Relationships

These animals are known for developing strong bonds between family members and friends. In fact, elephants can form friendships that last their entire lifetime. One study showed that female Asian elephants have as many as ten to 50 friends.

Although elephants don’t mate for life, they do stay close to their mating partners.

The depth of their relationships can be seen in instances when they return to the location of a loved one’s death, display grief upon the birth of a stillborn calf, and mourn the deaths of family members.

Elephants are one of the most empathetic animal species. They chase predators away from their young, stop play fights before they go too far, and otherwise show that they perceive potential distress in members of their group and act to prevent it.

Do Elephants Like To Be Petted?

If you’ve ever seen elephants in a circus or sanctuary setting, you may wonder whether they enjoy receiving affection from humans. After all, in circuses and sanctuaries, elephants often complete tricks, allow humans to ride on their backs, and more. 

However, this type of behavior is often the result of inhumane training methods that involve fear and pain for the elephants.

If left to their own devices rather than trained to provide entertainment, it’s highly unlikely that elephants would tolerate or enjoy being petted by humans.


When it comes to friendliness, elephants are extremely friendly toward their own groups, family members, and friends. They often live in the same family group for their entire life and can form lifelong friendships as well.

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However, elephants aren’t always friendly to humans. While many elephants who are raised in captivity are comfortable around humans, those who grow up in their natural environment can attack if humans cause them to feel threatened.

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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