Elephant Wows Biologists With Its Clever Use of a Cube

Screenshot via PLoS ONE / cc

Kandula, a seven-year-old Asian elephant with a soft-spot for fruit, is forcing biologists to rethink the limits of pachyderm intelligence after displaying some remarkable problem-solving skills. At the National Zoo in Washington DC, researchers studying animal behavior crafted a puzzling situation for the young male elephant -- dangling a tempting treat from a wire over his enclosure, just out of reach. After studying the problem for a moment, Kandula devised a solution in the form a tool -- wowing scientists and proving yet again that pachyderms are among the Animal Kingdom's cleverest creatures.

According research conducted by a team from the The City University of New York, the video above suggests depicts Kandula in an "aha" moment, and that perhaps elephants in general are capable of more complex problem solving than previously believed -- particularly when tools become involved.

From the study, published on PLoS ONE:

These results provide experimental evidence that an elephant is capable of insightful problem solving through tool use. Evidence for this ability is indicated by the suddenness of Kandula's problem solving behavior without evidence of prior trial and error learning. His persistent use of this problem solving technique in subsequent sessions and his transference to other objects is consistent with the definition and other criteria that some have set for insightful problem solving. Elephants in the field and those in this study have been observed standing on stationary objects to attain items. However, Kandula's movement of the cube for use as a platform to attain otherwise unreachable food was a novel and spontaneous solution to the problem.

This, of course, isn't the first study to indicate that elephants are a clever species, in many ways similar to our own, but it is yet another reason to reconsider our common sense of superiority over other large-brained animals -- and at the same time reinforcing the belief that there is still much more to be learned about the natural world and our relation to it.

And, as biologists continue to learn and record more evidence that challenge traits once thought to be exclusively human are actually possessed by other animals, like elephants, perhaps we'll be driven to treat them more humanely.

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