- Look at this, it is an African elephant in a South African reserve, and he's known as a bit of a troublemaker.
This is an electric fence that he wants to break down, but he has to test it with his tusks to figure out where it's electrified.
Otherwise he might get a bit of a shock which would be quite uncomfortable.
- That is so smart.
Not only would this elephant have to know which parts of the fence are electrified, right?
He'd also have to know how to test that without hurting himself so he's using his tusk.
That is super cool.
- I know, right?
- Elephants are super intelligent though, right?
I mean, this isn't that big of a surprise.
How intelligent are they, really?
- Elephants have been reported to cooperate with each other, experience empathy, and have a working memory as good as humans, maybe even better.
- Welcome to Animal IQ.
In each episode, we measure the intelligence of a different animal based on a rubric of five domains.
- Each domain can be affected by evolution, genetics, and the environment.
While directly comparing intelligence among animals is difficult, this rubric gives us an idea of where science thinks an animal might fall as of now.
- To build our rubric, we read the research, talk to experts, and add a trunk-load of elephant experience.
You get it?
You see where I'm going there?
I am super excited for today's animal.
You probably got it.
Pop culture says the pachyderm never forgets, and that they're super smart, and that their giant brains are a huge advantage.
- Their brains certainly are huge, and here's what we know; elephants have the largest brain of all terrestrial mammals.
And have the largest cerebral cortex by volume in the animal kingdom.
The elephant brain has almost as many cortical neurons as the human brain, and in fact, some of the neurons are larger than humans and most other species.
Their encephalization quotient or EQ is 1.3.
And remember humans are 7.5.
- They also have great working memory which is comparable to humans like you said, Natalia, and we've even seen them learn to cooperate with each other in complex problem solving tasks, which we'll come back to.
Their social scores must be off the charts, right?
- Cooperation will definitely up there social points.
Elephants are not only able to cooperate, but they're aware for the need of a partner in cooperative tasks.
Scientists have given elephants a task that requires them to work together to get a food reward.
If they don't work together, and if they're not aware of that need for a partner, then they're not going to be able to get that tasty snack.
So they get a bump in the social category, and elephant should also get a bump in the awareness category because of something called the mirror test.
- The mirror test is where they would put like a piece of tape on the elephant's face, and then show them themselves in a mirror.
Obviously you and I passed that test really easily, but not all animals do.
In this case the elephants would touch the tape on their face.
They knew they were looking at themselves.
That's amazing and definitely gets them a bump in awareness.
Elephants can look into a mirror and they know what they're looking at.
They essentially know they're looking at themselves.
They can also show empathy, and there are only a handful of species that have contingency testing behavior.
Sorry about that.
Let's go back to empathy.
Observation show that elephants, like humans, can empathize with others.
Not only do they render assistance when other animals or other elephants are in need, they can also tell when other elephants are distressed, or unfortunately deceased, and they will act accordingly.
They'll empathize with them.
Research by Ian Douglas Hamilton of Save the Elephants shows the elephants are concerned with other distressed or deceased individuals, they'll render assistance, and as you can see, this elephant family they're looking out for their ailing matriarch.
- Empathy is a fairly advanced social trait.
It requires an individual to be able to walk in another individual shoes, or in this case, deal with another's trunk.
Studies have found the elephants will form coalitions to protect and comfort each other, they'll babysit young elephants, they'll help remove things that are stuck to other elephants, they'll even help elephants move that might not be able to move on their own.
- It's as if those elephants knew to treat other elephants the way they would want to be treated.
- All that said though, there is no way that we can know 100% if elephants experience empathy.
But they sure do appear to.
- Good reminder.
Research shows that elephants have working memory similar to humans, their eyesight's relatively poor, but their sense of smell and hearing are excellent.
They can hear family members calling from far away, and remember individual vocalizations of at least 100 group members.
The old phrase "Elephants never forget" is just half of it.
What they really never forget is a smell.
They use their sense of smell to find food, find safe paths, nearby waterholes, rivers, or even incoming weather patterns, and nearby humans.
They even use smell to differentiate between dangerous and non-threatening humans.
- It sounds like they should have a really high measure of ecological and rational scores.
African elephants can hold information about several smells in their heads, they can recognize individual human sense, classify those humans into different categories, they can even remember then those classifications that they made up which means that in effect, elephants can categorize things into classes and subclasses, which suggests a superhuman-like memory organization, which I have to say is very cool.
- Remember the fence?
Elephant seemed to understand how to manipulate objects.
They've been observed using tools for personal grooming and if given a bushy lens they'll break off a piece for their own personal use.
So elephants seem pretty smart based on studies.
But what about in person?
We called Dr. Joshua Plotnik to get some answers.
Hi, it's good to see you.
Natalia, it's great to see you as well.
I wish we could do this in person, but it's exciting to be able to talk to you about elephants virtually.
I study elephant behavior and cognition because I am fascinated by how intelligence evolves across different animal species.
One study we did recently was looking at how they could tell the difference between different quantities of food using only their sense of smell.
We looked at two different quantities of sunflower seeds.
And if I were to show you two buckets of sunflower seeds, one had 30 and one had 180, I'm pretty sure you could tell the difference, right?
'Cause the 180 is gonna be bigger in the bucket, and so you can see that difference.
But if I showed you 150 and 180, right?
The difference is gonna be so minute you're not gonna even be able to tell if you looked at the side of the bucket, but the elephants can.
Learning is one of these kind of ubiquitous behaviors, right?
In the Animal Kingdom.
Animals learn on their own by observing.
And as you can imagine because elephants are such a social animal, a lot of what they know, as they get older, is through learning by observing others.
And this is how elephants gain knowledge.
Over time, they move from one landscape to the next, they experience potential predators, they experience good watering holes versus bad watering holes, good locations for food versus bad locations for food.
All of this comes through the, you know, the type of learning that we all experience.
- Tell us a little bit more about how you're digging into the elephant brain at the moment.
- It's like playing a game.
You give the animal an opportunity to interact with a puzzle, or a game, or some sort of task, and you see how they respond to it and can they change their behavior based on different parameters?
We install puzzle boxes in the field, which are these big metal boxes that an elephant can't destroy although you'd be surprised.
The elephants will manipulate the boxes in different ways to get access to the food inside.
Some elephants might solve it really quickly.
Some might use a lot of different motor activities, meaning some might use the tip of their trunk, or the side of their trunk, or their full body to try to manipulate it.
I don't know how an elephant sees, hears, or smells their world, so all we can do is to kind of come up with experimental designs and these quote unquote games to try to get inside the animal's head by taking their perspective.
And in this case, it's their sensory perspective.
- What we don't know is if elephants can reason and understand causality, in one study, elephants are trained to touch a bucket lid to reveal a food reward.
Even if the bucket is uncovered and elephants can reach for the food, they still touch the lid first.
It's almost as if they didn't understand the causality of needing to remove the lid.
- Famous psychologist Jean Piaget in the 1960s said that, "Intelligence is not just knowing things, but building on what we know."
And animals have different interests than humans.
So, they value different things and thus they build in different ways.
They may not see the world the way that we do, both literally with different eyes and different brains, but also figuratively.
And thus, they may not build a world of knowledge in that same way.
But getting inside the mind of an elephant, as best that we can, could actually help us better conserve them.
- We're studying a population of approximately 250 to 300.
And these elephants live within a protected area.
And so the elephants will leave the protected area, they find this really tasty food along the periphery of the sanctuary, and the elephants will go into the crop fields and they'll eat these crops, and you can imagine this upsets the farmers.
If an elephant is intelligent as we say that they are, they're gonna come up with ways to deal with the mitigation strategies that the farmers have come up with.
So for instance, the farmers will put up fences and the elephants will knock them down.
Or the farmers will sit in watch towers to protect their crops, and so they might make loud noises at night by, you know, banging pots and pans together, or shooting firecrackers up in the air.
And the elephants are smart and they learn to adapt to the fact that while this is an annoying noise, the farmers don't intend to hurt the elephants, and so the elephants will just wait them out.
What we hope to do is to kind of create a personality profile for elephants.
And why this would be important is if you wanna try to help elephants in the wild, you need to understand why some elephants are more or less likely to engage in this conflict with people.
All of these different studies of behavior and cognition could help inform conservation by balancing the needs of the humans with the needs of the animals.
And this is crucially important if we wanna be able to conserve what's left of our natural world and these amazing endangered species.
- That link between elephant cognition and elephant conservation is such a powerful one.
Let's include that in the X factor.
I think we should put it in the X-Factor category for sure.
So here's how elephants have done on our rubric.
They are really so intelligent.
We didn't even have time to cover everything we know they're capable of.
- These animals are obviously one of our best performers on our rubric.
But while researching this episode, I was reading about an African elephant's EQ.
Remember we mentioned it earlier, and it's high, but I was surprised to find out it's actually lower than Asian elephants, which I think is pretty interesting.
We might have to go back and hit pachyderms up again someday.
What do you think?
We barely scratched the surface of these impressive pachyderms, this sizeable intellect.
We've covered how they can work together to cooperate, that they've shown evidence of empathy.
They're truly amazing creatures, but there's so much left to learn.
- Are y'all surprised at our result on this rubric?
Are elephants smarter than you thought?
Not as smart?
Share this video with someone who also loves elephants as much as you do, and thanks for watching Animal IQ.
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