An Asian elephant named Koshik can imitate human speech, saying words in Korean that can be understood by speakers of the language. Koshik has a vocabulary of the five Korean words for 'hello', 'sit down', 'no', 'lie down' and 'good'.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Koshik understands the meaning of the words he is using.
It is unclear why Koshik started mimicking human speech. But in the journal 'Current Biology,' cognitive biologists Angela Stoeger and Tecumseh Fitch from the University of Vienna suggest that it may be related to his experiences when he was a juvenile.
Koshik was the only elephant living at the Everland Zoo in South Korea for about five years in his youth, with only people for company during an important phase for bonding and development.
"We suggest that Koshik started to adapt his vocalisations to his human companions to strengthen his social affiliation with them, something that is also seen in other vocal-learning species and, in very special cases, even across species," said Stoeger.
There have been reports of elephants imitating the sound of truck engines and a male elephant living in a zoo in Kazakhstan was reported to speak in Russian and Kazakh, a case not investigated by scientists.