DID YOU KNOW
It’s common knowledge that elephants are smart but to really understand the complexity of these animals takes getting to know them. The truth is, we really don’t understand the full scope of their intellect, but everything we do know puts them as one of the world’s most intelligent animals. Who knows what we’ll learn about them next.
1. THEY CAN IDENTIFY HUMAN LANGUAGES.
They don’t need to understand what humans are saying; just which humans are saying it. Elephants have developed the ability to identify human voices in Africa by age, gender, and even tribe. Researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK found a way to test this by playing recordings spoken by two African men. One was from the Maasai tribe, who have been known to kill wild elephants, and the other was from the Kamba tribe, who do not. When the elephants heard the recording of the Maasai men, they showed signs of fear and adopted a defensive posture but when they heard the recording of the Kamba tribesman, they were unbothered. Even more interesting, the elephants did not react to the voices of women and children from either tribe, showing that they only regarded Kamba men as a threat.
2. THEY CAN USE TOOLS.
The usage of tools is often regarded as one of the more sophisticated skills an animal can have. Elephants use a variety of tools found in their environments. They have been seen using sticks and branches as fly swatters and stacking boxes to allow them better access to food out of their reach. After digging watering holes and drinking their fill, elephants will sometimes plug the holes with balls of chewed tree bark. This stops the water from evaporating and saves it for later use.
3. THEY SHOW EMPATHY TO THEIR OWN.
Asian Elephants will show empathy to their peers by trying to console them in their grief or stress. This can include light touching with their trunks, or making soft vocal noises.
4. ELEPHANTS MOURN THEIR DEAD.
When an elephant passes away, its herd will stay with its body for hours and at times even attempt a burial.
5. THEY HAVE EXTRAORDINARY MEMORIES.
“The memory of an elephant” is an idiom with a lot of truth behind it. These animals have exceptional memories that allow them to navigate their landscapes. They can recall the routes they took to watering holes from years prior which is a huge advantage in arid climates. This memory extends to their personal relationships as well. Bonds they have formed last their lifetimes and many examples show Elephants recognizing old friends from decades past.
6. THEY DEMONSTRATE SELF-AWARENESS.
Dolphins, apes, humans, and elephants are the four animals we know for sure have a concept of self-awareness because each has passed the mirror test. Several elephants were presented with a large mirror that they began to explore, prodding it and trying to get around its backside to see behind it. Eventually, they began to examine their own bodies; the tell-tale sign of true understanding. An “X” was drawn on the elephants’ forehead in a place where they couldn’t see it except in their reflection. Once the elephants recognized they were looking at themselves, they began prodding the “X” with their trunks.
7. THEY ARE ABLE TO SELF-MEDICATE.
Kenyans have learned to utilize the leaves of a Boraginaceae tree to help induce labor, and they’re not alone. Elephants will use these leaves for the same purpose.
8. THEIR EMPATHY EXTENDS TO HUMANS, TOO.
Dame Daphne Sheldrick spent over 50 years of her life caring for elephants and even developed the formula that keeps baby elephants alive when they can’t nurse from their mothers. After her passing, her daughter had this to say:
“‘My mother died in the evening, and the following day we had some VIPs visiting and I was down with them. And as I came to the spot, it was out in the park, the whole nursery herd started walking towards me, led by Mbegu, who is our wonderful matriarch here, she came as a tiny infant herself and she's kind of a mini-mom. She walked all 29 of them up past me, brushing past me,’ described Angela Sheldrick. ‘That doesn't happen every single day. The fact that all of them came to me immediately. Elephants read your hearts, so I don't know so much if it was knowing Daphne passed away, but they could feel my grief.’”
Elephants are emotionally complex, exceptionally intelligent and highly intuitive. If humans could show them half as much empathy as they show us, we would both live in a far better world.