African elephants are very social, living in large societies that are primarily based around family units. Around ten closely related females and their calves are led by an older an more experienced female known as the matriarch. Family units can merge, forming kinship groups that are not necessarily blood related. Males can also form alliances with other unrelated males, in order to have a better chance at survival.
Most of the care to the newborn calves comes from the mother herself, but other young females in the group (called ‘allomothers’) may help, in what is perhaps some training for later life when these females have calves of their own.
This pack mentality almost certainly helps them survive the difficult conditions that can arise in Africa, and it is also an awesome example of cooperation between kin and non-kin.
In this short clip by the BBC, an inexperienced mother takes her calf across a slippery mud pan, and they get into more trouble than they were expecting. The baby elephant begins to slip and slide, performing a 10/10 split that would have gymnast judges off their seats in a flash. After making their way through the majority of the mud, there is one last hurdle — a large step out that the adults can easily make, but much more difficult for the calf. The calf tries and tries to make its way up and out of the mud, but it cannot do it alone. Luckily, the herd comes to the rescue…
Related individuals cooperating is pretty common, as it gives the cooperators a direct benefit when their kin have a better survival and reproduction rate. However, there are examples of cooperation that happens between different species, and that is where it gets weird.