Elephants Smarter Than Your Child? They Have Better Counting Ability & Can Identify Different Languages

african elephant photo

photo: Chad Rosenthal via flickr.

It's long been known that elephants are pretty darn smart for non-human animals, but based on some research which BBC News is reporting on, it seems we've underestimated pachyderms' brain prowess. Here's the rundown on elephant intelligence:100 Different Elephants Known by Voice
Using a giant loudspeaker mounted on the back of a land rover, scientists played recordings of calls used by elephants to identify each other over a distance of several kilometers. They determined that elephant matriarchs can identify at least 100 different elephants by voice alone.

Different Languages Elicit Different Behaviors
Though it's too early in the research to say for certain, it also seems elephants may be able to readily identify different human languages.

When they hear people speaking the Maasai language of Maa they become defensive or even aggressive behavior. Elephants and Maasai sometimes come into conflict with one another. When presented with English, which is the most common language spoken by tourists in the area, the elephants didn't exhibit the behavior. The same thing when Maasai switched to speaking Swahili, rather than Maa.

Intelligence Only Seen in Great Apes and Humans
In terms of numerical skills, elephants outperform primates and human children. When researchers tested elephants' ability to differentiate two quantities of objects placed in buckets, they performed very well: Equally as good determining between five and six objects as between one and two.

Professor Dick Byrne of St Andrew's University said elephants have "proved to have abilities which have only been found elsewhere in the great apes and humans. We're a bit limited by how little we know about elephants, but the off glimmers we get seem to be rather remarkable."

Remarkable indeed. Making the fact that at present poaching rates, African elephants may be entirely wiped out by 2025.

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