Just how intelligent are elephants?

Elephants have brains and beauty, and there’s plenty going on between those enormous ears

It seems we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to elephant intelligence; some scientists claim they are so similar to us that humans could learn a lot from the way elephants behave towards each other. The ability to empathise is often associated with intelligence and mostly considered a human trait; however the evidence for elephant empathy is mounting. When one member of the herd is in pain, struggling to climb muddy banks, or grieving for another, there’s a wealth of anecdotal evidence for elephants comforting each other and offering support. If a member of the group is upset, all they have to do is let the others know by flapping their ears and lifting their tail and the herd rallies round, stroking the other herd member with their trunks and making soft noises, much like how humans speak softly and hug each other for comfort.

Elephant friends are thick as thieves and mischievously help each other clamber over electric fences and remove tranquilliser darts.


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In tests, elephants have been shown to understand human body language almost as well as a one-year old child.


In studies, elephants have been able to distinguish between human gender, age, and ethnicity just from hearing their voice. They are able to tell this information regardless of the language they are speaking, and can also tell if the speaker means them harm.

The ability to decipher so much information from another species’ voice is pretty impressive considering a cat’s meow, for example, sounds much the same as any other cat to a human.


3 things you should know about elephants

1. Due to a genetic mutation, not all elephants have tusks. Due to high levels of poaching, tuskless elephants are now more common, as these are less likely to be killed by hunters.

2. If an elephant wants to go somewhere, they will let the herd know by emitting a low rumble and lifting their foot while facing the direction they want to travel in.

3. Elephants have amazing memories and can remember other elephants they met briefly decades ago.


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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje