Just How Smart Are Elephants?

Just How Smart Are Elephants?

Posted by Connor Whelan on 3rd Oct 2016

It is often said that dogs and dolphins are the smartest animals in the world, but today we want to throw a new name into the mix and ask the question “Just how smart are elephants?” You will have heard the expression “having a memory like an elephant” many times throughout your life, but it is not just memory where these giants of the animal world mentally excel!

To show off just how clever they really are, we wanted to bring you the top behaviours that prove that elephants are actually incredibly smart, so sit back, and find out a little more about these animal Einstein’s!

They can identify languages

Baby elephant

Yes you read that correctly! African elephants can actually distinguish the differences between human gender, age, and ethnicity purely through the sound of a person’s voice!

To test this, researchers at the University of Sussex in Brighton found two different groups of Kenyan men, the Maasai and the Kamba. Whilst the Maasai have a history of killing wild elephants, the Kamba do not. When the researchers played a clip of both groups saying “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming!” in the two different languages, the results in the body language and behaviour of the elephants was startlingly different! When it was said by the Maasai, the elephants would show signs of fear, huddling together and moving away from the voice. However, when the same clip was played in the language of the Kamba, the elephants showed no change from their normal, relaxed reactions at all! This led the researchers to believe that the African elephants can tell the difference between a voice which is threatening to them and one that is not.

They can use tools!

You still won’t be seeing an elephant wandering around the hardware store looking for a hammer and some nails, but these incredible animals have adapted to use certain items to help them in their environments.

A good example of this comes from a 7 year old Asian Elephant named Kandula. He impressed researchers by utilizing tools from his surrounding area to reach fruits that had been placed strategically out of his reach. After a few days of attempting to get the fruit with his trunk, Kandula had his “A-Ha” moment and realised that if he trod on a wooden crate he could reach the delicious fruit!

Take a look at Kandula’s clever method of fruit picking here.

Elephants can understand human body language!

Happy Elephant

Researchers recently observed behaviour that suggests elephants can understand human pointing. This was tested via food being hidden in one of two identical containers, and the researchers pointing to the container which had the food inside it. Without any previous training, the elephants picked out the correct container almost 68% of the time. That is only 5% lower than how 1-year old human babies perform on similar tests!

They mourn their dead

Mourning Elephant

Whilst no creatures throughout the whole of the animal kingdom deal with death in the same way as humans do, elephants have demonstrated some very unique reactions to a death amongst their own kind. They have been known to display emotions very similar to what we as humans would call grief and mourning. They will caress the bones of the dead with their trunks, stand by the deceased for hours, and sometimes even try to bury the remains of the animal which has passed away.

Even though we are still learning more about elephants all of the time, this display of unique behaviours shows that their levels of emotional understanding are above those of almost all other animals.

And of course, they have fantastic memories….

Elephant Family

Having a memory like an elephant has become a commonly known phrase for good reason. These animals may have huge heads but they have the brain power to back it up! Elephants remember the routes to watering holes across huge distances for years at a time, and this is crucial when they are walking through the desert in search of nourishment! Without this innate ability they simply would not survive, so next time somebody tells you that you have the memory of an elephant, take it as a compliment. If they tell you that you have the nose of one though, then that’s a very different story…

Elephants are incredibly clever animals, but even with their impressive brainpower they have not been able to flourish in a world which is ever increasingly being destroyed by humans. This is why elephant conservation projects are needed so badly. Take a look and see how you can help the elephants today.


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