Interesting recent research shows that elephants memories are very complex. Older elephants pass down memories and associations to other generations.
For example, researchers now know that elephants can distinguish different human groups by their clothing and voice. Evidence shows that elephants recognize and fear tribal hunters’ clothing colors, smells, and voice tones but have little interest in farming tribal groups, seeing them as harmless.
The matriarch teaches young elephants what and who to be wary of even when the young elephant has yet to experience it for himself.
From The Guardian:
The idea of elephants as information networks should matter to conservationists, because in this view of the world every elephant killed by humans is a network user or editor lost. With the extinction of elephants, we would also see the extinction of a network of elephant experiences – where the waterholes are; who to befriend and who to avoid; where the grasses come late or early; where the mud holes are plentiful and where the crocodiles are not; why it’s a good idea to avoid men in red garments; when the moon lights the night each month; where dead friends and ancestors let out their last tortured gasps. This is network chatter. It is network traffic. It has value. We are told that elephants matter because they are spectacularly intelligent and charismatic and because they are ecosystem engineers and umbrella species, protecting the wildlife of the region. But, what if they were also worth conserving for the information architecture that their societies utilise?