Five unbelievable habits of elephants

From avenging their dead to mimicking human speech, elephants get up to all sorts of things you'd never expect

Share
Related Topics

It's even harder to believe that wild elephant populations are under threat once you realise all the amazing things elephants can do for themselves.

Elephants use pharmaceuticals

Deprived of the animal kingdom’s equivalent of Boots, Elephants have instead displayed incredible intelligence in foraging their natural environment for cures and remedies to ailments. There’s a specific word for this: zoopharmacognosy –an animal’s knowledge of medicine, and Elephants have a PhD in it. They often eat dirt (geophagy) to neutralise toxins from plants they’ve eaten, and induce labour using the Boraginaceace tree. Recent research has even discovered that the South African elephant fought off extinction with the help of Ganoderma – a mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-cancer and anti-viral agent. People who live near these elephants even boil elephant poo and drink it, much as we would drink herbal tea for its health benefits.

 

Elephants avenge their dead

We’ve already mentioned how elephants bury their dead, but what’s altogether more impressive is that they also avenge their dead. Growing up in a complex family-like social system, Elephants are relatively civilised creatures. Baby elephants grow up alongside their parents, and communicate constantly even when they’re adults. So far, so good – but what happens when poachers kill one, two or twenty members of the pack? Well, then they get angry – very angry. Poaching and hunting have interfered in Elephant society so much that now people are reporting lone, bezerk elephants looking to avenge their loved ones. They’re basically Liam Neeson in Taken – except they’re 4m tall and weigh 7,000kg.

 

Elephants are the ultimate babysitters

How many people can you keep an eye on at one time? If you’ve ever had to look after children, you’ll know that any more than three, and suddenly you’re losing them left right and centre, one’s teetering on the edge of a pond and the other one’s disappeared half way up a tree and is in a tense stand-off with an overly protective squirrel. The government’s even legislated against our incompetence at childcare and nursery ratios stand at one adult for every four children – and even that’s pushing it. Elephants, however, don’t have that problem. Elephants can keep track of up to thirty family members at any one time – regardless of how far away they are! They manage this by creating an intricate mental map of where everyone is, by tracking their urine scent.

 

 

Elephants have learned to mimic human voices

Koshik is a male Asian elephant living in a zoo in South Korea. What makes him remarkable is that he has learned to mimic the sound of five different Korean words. By putting his trunk in his mouth, he can make the sounds of the words for “hello” “sit down” “no” “lie down” and “good”. Although they’re not entirely sure of why Koshik has developed this unique ability, researchers think it might be because of Koshik’s lonely start in life – as the only elephant at his zoo for five years in his youth, he adapted his vocalisations to form stronger social bonds with their keepers.

 

Elephants understand how to point

It doesn’t seem like a huge deal – but it is. Recent research has discovered that elephants understand pointing without being trained to recognise it. Anyone with a cat or dog will know the frustration of pointing in a direction, only to have your beloved pet stare at your finger in blank incomprehension, utterly missing the point. Scientists believe that the wild animals have succeeded where countless domesticated animals and monkeys have failed because of their complex social system, which requires them to recognise unspoken signals. Scientists believe this means the animals are cognitively much more like us than previously realised.
 

You can read more about our Christmas campaign here

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tulisa Contostavlos arrives to face drug charges at Southwark Crown Court on July 14, 2014  

Tulisa might have been attacked for being working class, but she still has to take some responsibility

Chloe Hamilton
Is Ed Miliband a natural born leader? Or could he become one?  

Wanted: a leader with the strength to withstand criticism from the media

Steve Richards
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried