Elephants and their Shocking Math Abilities
By Helen Jupiter, MNN
When it comes to brainpower, elephants may have more than just long memories.
BBC reports that the sizeable pachyderms may have a host of other
exceptional mental skills that have not been undocumented. Included among these
potential abilities are an ear for voices and languages, as well as an eye for
A team of researchers from the University of Sussex, set out to discover how
many elephant calls an individual elephant can remember, calls that are
sometimes heard from as far as several kilometers away. Through a playback study
focusing on the elephants of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, they determined
that elephant matriarchs can learn to recognize at least 100 other unseen
elephants by voice alone.
The Sussex team also observed behavior that led them to wonder whether the
Amboseli elephants can discriminate between different human languages,
specifically the Maa language of the Masai, the language of the Kamba people,
and the English they hear spoken by the region’s tourists. Informal observations
have shown an anxious, tense reaction to Maa, and a calm, relaxed reaction to
English, but the Sussex researchers explain that it is still too early to know
for sure, as they have just begun controlled study of the elephants’ reactions
study out of Japan points to elephants’ remarkable numerical skills, such as
the ability to distinguish between two similar quantities of objects. Elephants
outperformed monkeys, apes, and even human children when tested on their
aptitude for recognizing the difference between two quantities of objects — for
example five from six.
Primates and children are capable of identifying the difference between smaller
numbers of objects but are limited when it comes to discriminating between
larger numbers. In contrast, the elephants involved in the study were equally
good at telling five from six as one from two.