Elephants, Large in Stature and Brains, Are in Danger of ExtinctionAuthor: Denise Blackman
Published: March 10, 2011 at 10:06 am ShareI have always been intrigued by the elephant. It's shear daunting size and yet, graceful movements have always mesmerized me. I have memories of the baby elephant I was allowed to ride at a children's zoo in Chicago when I was still a youngster, about 6 or 7 I believe. I can still feel the wiry and sparse hair that covered it's head and surprised me when I touched it!
Lot's of studies have been done on these great creatures and the scientific world is in agreement on a couple of things. They are in danger of extinction and they are really, really smart! Point in case is a recent study in PNAS which definitely “shows that elephants know when they need help, and they also understand the role of a partner in cooperative tasks.” Something that we humans should probably pay a little more attention to.
he study used a contraption that involved, and I quote, “A sliding table carrying two food bowls (that) could be moved only by pulling both ends of a rope that was threaded through two pulleys. If only one end of the rope was pulled, the rope became unthreaded and the table would not move. This apparatus was placed behind a transparent barrier (a volleyball net) so that the elephants could see the set-up but couldn’t reach the food.” Kudos to the engineer that came up with this apparatus! I have visions of myself and my husband, after days of no snacking, scratching our heads and attempting to get to the food. A task which I'm sure would have resulted in an argument about who should be pulling what rope and for what reason., and....my guess.. we'd still be hungry when the time limit was reached.
Elephants, Large in Stature and Brains, Are in Danger of Extinction - Page 2Author: Denise Blackman
Published: March 10, 2011 at 10:06 am ShareOut of 12 pairs of elephants they all completed this task in 25 seconds or less in 30 trials that were run. Although some individual elephants did make between three to six errors, the experiment did prove the theory that these great creatures do, in fact, have the ability to work together and get the job done! In a similar study, chimpanzees did not fair so well and made up to 28 errors trying to accomplish the same thing. This does not surprise me, the apes being more similar to us, and thus proves my theory that sometimes we are too smart for our well being, or at least think we are. There was also a point made about one of the female elephants who “simply put her foot on her end of the rope and let her partner do all the work” while she did none at all. I guess there is a lesson to be learned here ladies!
In all, the study did prove that these animals do understand the role of a partner. They also understand that some things cannot be completed without one. The study when further using corvids, hyenas, and Capuchin monkeys which which showed that these species “failed to complete the task, or left questions as to whether or not the animals understood the role of their partner.”
I would love to see the results of this study using our own species and compare notes with these grand creatures. I have a feeling they may leave us way behind in our understanding of each other and the requirements of a true partnership in life. Seems we have much to learn from a species who has been able to survive, even with our technological intrusions into their peaceful lifestyle