Adorable Video Shows Elephant Return to Say 'Hello' to Keeper Who Raised Her

An elephant never forgets.

A video posted to Twitter yesterday showed the sweet moment an elephant, that had been orphaned as a calf, return to say "hello" to the keeper who raised her. The interaction—which many online have described as "magical"—begs the question to be asked: Just how strong is an elephant's memory?

The video was posted by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an orphan elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in Kenya.

"Simply magical," the organization tweeted. "Head Keeper Benjamin catches up with an orphaned elephant he helped raise, who has been successfully reintroduced back to the wild but came back to say 'hello.'"

In the video, Benjamin sits peacefully beside the elephant, who appears to be freely eating from his hand. The elephant's calf can be seen standing near one of her hind legs.

Already, the video has been viewed more than 15,000 times.

Amie Alden with Sheldrick Wildlife Trust told Newsweek the video was taken a couple of years ago.

"We chose to post it again as it encapsulates everything about our conservation work to raise orphaned elephants," she said. "It's also a scene we see frequently! In this case, the beautiful individual is Sunyei and the little calf by her feet is her first-born, a baby we named Siku."

Keepers with the trust ensure that their orphaned elephants have the skills necessary to survive in the wild.

"[These skills] can include learning how to forage, what plants are safe to eat, the importance of roaming as part of a herd for safety and how to communicate with their own kind," said Alden.

"When you consider that in the wild, an elephant calf rarely strays more than a meter from its family members for its first eight years of life, it becomes easier to understand the level of commitment it takes to look after orphaned baby elephants," she continued.

"Even then, people still find it surprising to learn it can take anywhere between 6-10 years to ensure these orphans are prepared for the wild!" Alden said.

Elephants are known for their ability to remember just about everything. Though their memories may not be as perfect as the popular idiom suggests, an elephant's memory is still pretty powerful.

Research published by Caitlin O'Connell and re-published by Slate in 2015 stated that elephants "might have learning and memory skills superior to ours [humans]."

According to O'Connell, elephants have the largest brain size of any land animal as well as the largest temporal lobe relative to body size.

"The temporal lobe is that portion of the cerebral cortex devoted to communication, language, spatial memory, and cognition," said O'Connell. "Given the temporal lobe's relative size in the elephant, there is every reason to suspect that elephants may be capable of far more complex cognition than is currently understood or documented."

To illustrate just how incredible an elephant's memory really is, ecologist Stephen Blake, while answering student questions for EarthSky in 2009, described it this way: "If you imagine an elephant that lives in a tropical rainforest, one of the most complicated systems on Earth, that elephant has to know where fruit trees are, where good forage is. It may need to know where those things are over an area of a thousand square miles."

If an elephant's memory is as powerful as experts believe it to be, then it's no surprise that Sunyei paid a visit to the keeper that had cared for her when she was young. In fact, she's not the first!

Alden told Newsweek that, for a variety of reasons, many orphans return.

"Sometimes it might be to just say 'hello' or interact with the orphans still dependent on our care [or maybe, even, to take these younger orphans out for a 'wild night out']," Alden explained. "Others might return for water...or even for help.

"Others return with hours-old babies underfoot," she continued. "In these particular instances, it is orphans that have developed a very close bond with their keepers and, we think, have deliberately sought them out to show off their new family members."

Of course, the return of an orphan is rewarding for a keeper.

"When they return to say hello, it's always nice to see old friends," said Benjamin. "I see them as my surrogate children, my family."

elephant and her calf
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Head Keeper Benjamin was recently reunited with an orphaned elephant he helped raise. Stock image of an elephant walking with her calf. AndreAnita/iStock

Updated 09/1/2021, 3:56 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comments from Amie Alden of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.