New Elephant Study Offers Further Proof Of Their Intelligence & Self Awareness

An experiment conducted by the University of Cambridge and published in Scientific Reports has provided researchers with a deeper understanding of elephant intelligence. 12 elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Thailand participated in the study in which they were asked to walk on to a mat, pick up a stick, and pass it to an experimenter in exchange for a food reward.

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In the control trials, the stick was simply placed on the mat. During the test phase, the stick was tied to the mat to see if the elephants could work out that they would have to remove their own body weight from the mat in order to complete the task and earn their treat.

The study found that the elephants stepped off the mat an average of 42 out of 48 times during the experiment, compared with three out of 48 during the control. The seemingly simple test was intended to see if elephants are able to recognize their bodies as obstacles to success.

Dr Josh Plotnik, a visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge and founder of conservation charity Think Elephants International, based the experiment on one in which children were asked to push a shopping cart attached to a mat on which they were standing. In those tests, children were not able to solve the problem until about the age of two.

We already know that elephants are among the most intelligent species on the planet. They are capable of thoughtful co-operation, empathy and recognizing their own images in a mirror – something few other species besides humans are able to do. Mirror recognition has only been seen in great apes, dolphins, magpies and elephants.

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It’s worth noting, however, that many scientists feel the mirror test is unfair in that it favors animals that rely heavily on vision. That’s why additional experiments such as the stick and mat test are so important in truly understanding the self awareness of different species.

According to Dr. Plotnik:

“This implies that elephants may be capable of recognizing themselves as separate from objects or their environment. This means that they may have a level of self-understanding, coupled with their passing of the mirror test, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom.”

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It is extremely difficult for researchers to develop tests tailored to the individual species being tested. The majority of intelligence experiments are skewed towards the abilities of humans, not animals. Understandably this is hard to overcome, because, well, scientists are human!

H/T to RTE 

Featured Image via Facebook/Elephant Lovers