Elephant Body Awareness


Photo: taken at the Elephant Nature Park

Another study has been done on elephant intelligence, and – no surprise – it concludes that elephants are exceptionally smart.  Elephants have often been given the mirror test to show self awareness.  Yet, unlike humans, elephants do not rely on vision as much as their other senses.  So, researchers decided to give elephants another test, which humans master at about eighteen months old.

From the Washington Post:

In tests of human body awareness, children are told to push a shopping cart toward a caregiver. There’s a trick: Tied behind the shopping cart is a mat. The children begin the test standing on the mat, which prevents them from pushing the cart forward. To be successful, children have to realize their own bodies are obstacles. Children older than 18 months figure out that they should step off the mat and steer the cart from the side.

As Plotnik and Dale wrote Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports, elephants do something remarkably similar. “They have clearly recognized that their body can get in the way of something,” Plotnik said.

To test the elephants, the scientists traveled to Thailand, where they posed a problem to 12 Asian pachyderms. The elephants had to pick up a stick and hand it over to their mahouts, or trainers. In the experimental condition, the scientists tied the stick to a rubber mat. As in the study of human children, the elephants began the test standing on the mat. The animals “very quickly” realized that they had to step off the mat to hand over the stick, Plotnik said.


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