Take a look at these three discoveries that make elephants one of the most intelligent animals. 

Updated: An Elephant’s Intelligence

Elephants are classified as the largest land mammals, and as one of the most intelligent animals. Scientists for many years have studied animals to try to understand the intelligence of animals. 

Over the years, they have developed a way to define animals' intelligence by their ability and skills to adapt to their surroundings. Elephants are no exception! These creatures use their elephant intelligence, self-awareness, memories and communication skills to adapt to their environments. 

Here are three discoveries of the African elephant behaviour that give you an insight into how smart they really are!

Elephants are self-aware. 

Not every animal is self-aware. If you were to put a dog in front of a mirror, the chances are they will start to bark because they believe their reflection is another dog. As of right now, scientists have discovered only a few animals are self-aware, and those include dolphins, chimpanzees and elephants! 

According to a senior cognitive research scientist, Diana Resis, animals with the ability to be self-aware have large complex brains and social lives and are capable of empathy. Elephants have all these traits. 

To test an animal’s self-awareness, scientists use the mirror test. They place mirrors in front of the animals and watch how they react to their reflections. Researchers conducted this test on three Asian elephants in the Bronx Zoo. They placed a plastic mirror in a private area in their yard. 

Researchers found that the African elephant behaviour included them investigating the mirror. Instead of socially interacting with their reflections, they would examine themselves the same way as humans do in front of the mirror. 

Elephants can identify languages. 

Over the years, elephants have needed to adapt to protect themselves and herds from potential dangers. Their predators include carnivores (who attack elephant calves and weak elephants) and humans. There are still humans who attack and kill elephants for their ivory. To protect themselves, elephants have developed the ability to identify languages

This discovery was found after researchers from the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, conducted an experiment using two men from different African ethnic groups. One man was from the Maasai group (cattle herders who had conflicts with elephants), and the other was from the Kamba group (farmers who rarely had conflicts with elephants.)

Both groups of men were recorded saying, “look, a group of elephants is coming.” Those recordings were played back to African elephants to see the reaction of the African elephant behaviour. 

The researchers discovered that African elephants did not react to the voices of Kamba men’ and ignored the voices of Maasai women and children. However, they did start to get defensive and protect their young when they heard the sounds of Maasai men.

Elephants have incredible memories. 

You might have heard the phrase that an elephant never forgets. However, just like humans can forget, so can elephants. These magnificent creatures have some of the most incredible memories in the animal kingdom. 

It was discovered that elephants are capable of remembering things that they have learned and experienced throughout their lives. From a very young age, elephants are taught about survival from their mothers and older relatives. The matriarch leads the herds and passes down their elephant intelligence, knowledge and experience to the younger generations. 

Elephants can recall specific food and water source locations to help them survive. Whether it is a smell, voice or particular face from experience, these creatures can remember almost everything. 

How can you help elephants?

An elephant’s intelligence is one of a kind! It is critical that we take the proper steps to keep them alive for many more years to come. 

You can help save the elephants by donating to For Elephants. We study African elephant behavior to help determine the best conservation actions for elephants in zoos and the wild.  Contribute to our research with a small donation today. 

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