Just How Intelligent are Elephants

Photo of author
Written By Hasan Rezazadeh

We know the saying ‘an elephant never forgets’, but there are in fact a number of other remarkable things these giants can do as well.

A study released this past Monday by scientists at the University of Sussex revealed that elephants can do much more that remember faces and places, they can identify voices and languages as well. These massive mammals can are capable of estimating age and gender based on the sound of an individual’s voice. The researchers performed an experiment on the elephants that involved playing audio recordings of a range of different voices in order to monitor the elephant’s reactions.

The experiment involved voice recordings from members of a number of different tribes. One of these tribes is more violent towards the elephants, having hunted them throughout centuries, called the Maasai. Another group, named the Kamba, have a more friendly relationships with the animals and are not a general threat towards them. The phrases that were recorded had the same meaning and delivered in the same manner but recited in different languages.

When presented with recordings of the Maasai, the elephants began forming a defensive group against what they thought to be an impending threat. In addition, they displayed behaviours such as sticking their trunks in the air to collect useful smells to gain further insight to the attacker.

However, when the elephants heard the recordings of female Maasai, they reacted less defensively, which indicates that they have the ability to differentiate between gender.

The study explains, “Moreover, these responses were specific to the sex and age of Maasai presented, with the voices of Maasai women and boys, subcategories that would generally pose little threat, significantly less likely to produce these behavioral responses.”

Other Behaviours

In addition to this astounding ability, researchers over the years have discovered that elephants are much more capable than ever thought.

  • Elephants can feel grief. They have displayed burying rituals to honor their dead and they also have been seen crying for a lost member of their herd.
  • Elephants sing by emitting a low frequency sound that is used to lure mates and to keep a herd from separating.
  • Elderly elephants usually lead a herd as they can remember previous situations and use their experience to avoid being at risk of attack.