Most animals don't have grandmas. But elephants do. And what Granny does is awesome.

For those of us lucky enough to have grandmas (and grandpas!), we know they can be a blessing.

Grandparents can be sources of wisdom, comfort, or joy. Not to mention that many of us actually grew up with our grandparents — family doesn't just mean a mom and dad raising kids. We're a lot more diverse than that.

In fact, the percentage of kids living in households run by a grandparent has more than doubled from about 3% in the 1970s to about 7% now — that's more than 5 million grandkids, as of 2012, getting the care they need.


So I think it's fair to say we're really lucky to have grandparents.

You know who else is really lucky to have a grandma? This little guy.

Turns out that elephant grandmas are very important too!

Elephants often live in large families made up of babies, juveniles, and females. They're often led by the oldest of these females, which often have a really important social role in their families.

Professor Phyllis Lee wanted to know more about how these families worked. And in her research, she found something surprising — having a grandma made a huge difference in whether a new baby survived.

"It was an unexpected finding for us," said Lee. "We didn't think we'd find that very positive relationship between having a grandmother present and how well the daughters were doing in terms of reproduction."

Only a handful of animals — mostly humans and other primates, whales, and elephants — get to have grandmas.

For most animals, living and having babies are tied together; you basically only stop having babies when you die. This makes animals like elephants, which can live long after they're done reproducing, pretty rare.

Part of the reason elephants are special comes from the fact that they live so long. They can live up to 70 years! Many other animals simply don't live long enough to really see their children's children. 

But even if they do, other animals don't necessarily have any significant bond to the kid. You don't see millipede grandmas, for example. 

In fact, in many species, the mom and grandmother will end up fighting each other for resources if they're in the same area. But not in elephants. 

"Elephants are really nice and supportive," said Lee. 

(By the way, sorry Grandpa, but there aren't really any male equivalents here. Male elephants tend to go off on their own after they reach puberty. And though they can live long enough to see their children's children, they don't really have a family role. Which, when you think about it, just makes human grandpas even more special.)

It's not unusual for the entire herd to help raise a new baby, even if it's not directly related to them. Image from Brenda/Flickr.

What do elephant grandmas do for their families?

Elephant grandmas help protect the baby, keep track of it, and help it if it gets stuck. 

Grandmas are also often the boss of the family, too. They can lead the family to the right places to forage or drink or lead the way when interacting with other elephant families.

Knowing where to find water can be really important on the savanna. Image from ninara/Flickr.

Part of what made Lee's study special was the place they worked and the sheer amount of data they used.

Lee looked at data from more than 800 individual elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. Researchers have been watching elephants in Amboseli for more than four decades

That's the kind of records you need when you study an animal that can live as long as a human. 

"We're only halfway there, we need another 40 years of data," said Lee. 

Her work is also interesting because it could give us hints about our own species – like why we go through menopause, for example. It was published in Springer's journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Animals can have families just as complex and diverse as our own.

Next time you meet someone who grew up with their grandma, let them know that they're like an elephant. 

All of this makes me want to give a certain someone a hug.

Most Shared

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Wikipedia

Women in country music are fighting to be heard. Literally. A study found that between 2000 and 2018, the amount of country songs on the radio by women had fallen by 66%. In 2018, just 11.3% of country songs on the radio were by women. The statistics don't exist in a vacuum. There are misogynistic attitudes behind them. Anyone remember the time radio consultant Keith Hill compared country radio stations to a salad, saying male artists are the lettuce and women are "the tomatoes of our salad"...? Air play of female country artists fell from 19% of songs on the radio to 10.4% of songs on the radio in the three years after he said that.

Not everyone thinks that women are tomatoes. This year's CMA Awards celebrated women, and Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles saw the opportunity to bring awareness to this issue and "inspire conversation about country music's need to play more women artists on radio and play listings," as Nettles put it on her Instagram. She did it in a uniquely feminine way – by making a fashion statement that also made a statement-statement.

Keep Reading Show less
popular