Tuesday 25 July 2017

Success at stick experiment shows elephants are anything but Dumbo

An elephant picking up a stick in an experiment that researchers say is further proof of elephants’ intelligence. Photo: PA
An elephant picking up a stick in an experiment that researchers say is further proof of elephants’ intelligence. Photo: PA

Sam Russell, London

Elephants have provided further evidence of their intelligence and self-awareness in an experiment involving a stick tied to a mat.

Researchers required Asian elephants to walk on to a mat, pick up a stick and pass it to an experimenter in exchange for food.

In control conditions the sticks were loose, but for the experiment sticks were tied to the mat - meaning the elephant's weight prevented them passing the stick to the researcher unless they walked off the mat.

The University of Cambridge study found that elephants stepped off the mat on average 42 out of 48 times during the experiment, compared with three out of 48 during the control.

Researchers said this shows elephants are able to recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in problem-solving.

The sample size was 12 elephants at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Thailand, and sets of 10 trials were run until the elephants passed the stick to the experimenter in five consecutive trials.

The test was devised by Dr Josh Plotnik, a visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge and founder of conservation charity Think Elephants International, and colleague Rachel Dale.

"Elephants are well regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, but we still need more empirical, scientific evidence to support this belief," Ms Dale said.

The study is published in the journal 'Scientific Reports'.

Irish Independent

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