Elephant tears, as for human ones, often appear linked to feelings of sorrow.
"Some mammals may cry due to loss of contact comfort," animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff explained to Discovery News. (Bekoff wrote about the topic in this blog.)
"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, who is author of "Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed."
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.