The Remarkable Intelligence of Elephants

December 9, 20120 Comments

Elephants are one of the most intelligent mammals on earth. They also share many of our human characteristics such as being family oriented and mourning their dead. As we learn more about the intelligence of elephants it underscores the notion that we should protect and advocate for the rights of these amazing animals. It should also make us think twice about capturing these wise and wild animals and subjecting them to a lifetime of misery just so they can entertain us.

Here are some of the fascinating ways that elephants demonstrate their intelligence and social-emotional IQ.

Elephants Have Strong Family Bonds

Elephants are born into love. They are surrounded by a sea of strong, protective legs. As soon as a baby is born, the mother elephant watches it diligently and even helps it to its wobbly feet. If a baby elephant cries, the whole herd takes part in caressing and comforting it.

Elephants have close-knit families like humans. An elephant family is ruled by a matriarch, and the group usually consists of her female offspring as well as their young. In many cases, the herd also welcomes the matriarch’s sister and her family. They all look after one another, and aunts look after the newest baby. In fact, the only things that can break the family bond are death and capture. These groups work together to find food, interact socially, and comfort one another through times of stress and mourning. They support each other, helping each other through times of sickness or through injuries.

It’s a significant event if one herd member has to break away, but an elephant’s sensitive hearing helps her keep in touch over long distances. If she has been absent for a considerable period of time and returns to the herd, the other members express joy by making noise, spinning around and gathering together.

Male elephants stay with the herd until they reach sexual maturity, then break away from the herd. Although they tend to spend a lot of time alone, male elephants will still maintain casual relationships with other males and will sometimes even form bachelor herds.

Elephants Can Communicate and Solve Problems

Just like us, elephants have their own language within herds. They are very sensitive to sounds and can hear things that are very far away.

Elephants have been known to solve problems in ways that have astounded scientists. Elephants have also been known to defeat obstacles in order to obtain food. In one instance, villagers tied bells around elephants’ necks so that if the villagers heard a bell ring, they knew the elephants were nearby and were hungry for their hard-earned crops.

One morning, the villagers were shocked to find that all the crops had been eaten and they hadn’t heard a thing. Upon checking out the elephants’ bell collars, it seemed as though the bells were fine and intact. However, it was later discovered that the elephants had used their trunks to fill the bells with mud, thus clogging them so they wouldn’t ring and leaving the clever elephants able to silently feast on the villagers’ crops.

Elephants use a variety of rumbles and trumpets to communicate with one another, but did you know they can also imitate human speech? Recently, a BBC article entitled “Elephant Mimics Korean With Help of His Trunk” documented some amazing elephant behavior. Koshik, an elephant at the Everland Zoo in South Korea, can mimic five words in Korean: hello, sit down, lie down, good and no.

Elephants Have Feelings

It’s fairly well-known that elephants mourn deaths within their herds. They grieve over bodies and become depressed, sometimes trailing the herd listlessly for days. But did you know they also mourn over other species’ deaths?

Lawrence Anthony, known as the Elephant Whisperer, became attached to two herds of elephants. Shortly after his death, both herds visited the Lawrence home, a trip that supposedly took them around 12 hours. For two days, both elephant herds gathered around Lawrence’s compound in the Thula Thula game reserve.

How did they know Lawrence passed away? Is it possible the elephants sensed what had happened and decided to make it a point to march in a funeral-like procession to honor a man who helped and saved them?

We may never know the real answer, but these stories truly illustrate how powerful and thoughtful an elephant’s mind really is. Instead of visiting zoos, circuses, participating in elephant tourism or buying black market ivory, we owe it to this fellow intelligent being to let them live a peaceful existence.

How can you help? Find out if Juliette can speak at your school, start a blog, or boycott circuses and zoos to facilitate further understanding and protection of the utterly amazing elephant.

Filed in: AllCurriculumElephant Characteristics
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About the Author ()

Margaret Castleberry, better known by her middle name Clare, is a freelance writer with a background as a librarian. She has traveled all over Eastern Europe and is visiting elephants in Southeast Asia this December.

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