That Elephants are intelligent animals was always known but that they can perceive a problematic situation and take help from others is something that scientists found out after an experiment was performed on Asian elephants.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge had build an apparatus that was originally designed to test Chimpanzees. It consisted of a platform that two animals had to pull together in order to bring it closer to them.
The researchers used this apparatus to experiment on wild Asian elephants and found that they knew how to co-operate with each other and thus elephants belonged to a group of complex animals who had intelligence, and social understanding.
Lead researcher Dr. Joshua Plotnik believes it was exciting to study elephant behavior in such detail.
He says, “It’s so hard to work with elephants because of their size. We see them doing amazing things in the wild, but we can see from this that they’re definitely co-operating.”
The apparatus was set up at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang province and the Elephants were already taught that if they pulled the rope they could get the food reward from the platform.
The rope was threaded on the platform in such a way that if only one elephant pulled the rope, it would uncoil and slipped out of the platform. It was only possible for the platform to move towards the elephants when both of them pulled their ends of the rope.
The elephants quickly solved this puzzle and researchers found amazing results.
“When we released one elephant before the other, they quickly learned to wait for their partner before they pulled the rope,” Dr Plotnik said. “They learnt that rule [to wait for the other elephant to arrive] quicker than chimps doing the same task.”
“She could just put her foot on the rope, so her partner had to do all the work,” said Dr Plotnik.
The researcher said that all these behaviours only add to the knowledge that humans only have the advantage of language.
“As humans, we like to show that we’re unique,” said Dr Plotnik, “but we’re repeatedly shot down. One thing that remains is our language. But amazingly complex behaviours – culture, tool use, social interaction – we see all of this in the animal kingdom.”
“The more we can understand about their intelligence, the better we can develop solutions to things like human-elephant conflict,” he explained.”So when the animals are raiding crops, we need to think of solutions that are based on the reasons why, and that benefit elephants as well as people.”
Elephants are known to mourn their dead and also help another if it is stuck in mud. The experiment proves all the more that elephants are as social animals as human beings and know when to help each other. – Atula, Staff Writer