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Elephant Rocks the Harmonica (Video)

Elephant Rocks the Harmonica (Video)

Move over, Alvin (of the Chipmunks). A 36-year-old Asian elephant, Shanthi, also likes to play the harmonica.

Shanthi lives in the National Zoo in Washington, DC. As her keeper Debbie Flinkman, says in NPR, she likes to devise different way to make noises:

“If a lock makes noise she’ll flip the lock repetitively. She will blow across the top of toys that we have drilled holes in.”

Flinkman tied a harmonica to the wall of Shanthi’s enclosure and the elephant took to blowing into it, “not usually a long ditty but it always ends in this really big sort of fanfare at the end, this big blowout,” as Flinkman describes it.

You can hear Shanthi performing herself in this video:

Shanthi’s predilection for the harmonica has led to questions of whether she is really making music and, indeed, about what music is: Is she just making sounds that she enjoys hearing? Are there certain sounds she’s trying to make, with rhythm and a beat?

Just such questions are the research focus of Dan Levitin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University. He says in NPR that music is an “evolutionary accident,” suggesting that there is no real reasons humans need music.

But he also notes that music serves some purpose. When people play music together, oxytocin — “the bonding hormone that’s released when people have an orgasm together” — is released, says Levitin. Could music play a role in helping us all to get along? Levitin tells NPR:

So the idea is that there’s no primate society that I know of that has more than 18 males in the living group because the rivalries cause the groups to break apart and there’s too much fighting. But human societies of thousands of members have existed for thousands of years. And the argument is that music, among other things, helped to defuse interpersonal tensions and smooth over rivalries.”

Music, that is, plays some role in expressing and mediating emotions and difficult — potentially aggressive, perhaps — tensions.

The Smithsonian Magazine says that Shanthi is making up songs, having figured “out how to manipulate the instruments with her trunk to make different sounds.” Asian elephants are “known to be very intelligent” and an endangered species. Elephants at the National Elephant Institute in Thailand have been taught to pick up a paintbrush and paint on canvas.

Who knows what Shanthi might produce given other instruments to try her trunk on?

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Photo by cliff1066™

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93 comments

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7:51AM PDT on May 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:51PM PST on Nov 12, 2012

Maybe Shanthi was human in a past life and she wants to make a statement that reincarnation is possible?

1:53AM PST on Nov 7, 2012

wonderful, thanks!

1:02PM PST on Nov 6, 2012

Beautiful. Personally I think music originated in nature, so it makes since that animals would be musically inclined. Animals are Amazing... hopefully one day man can follow in their footsteps and learn the true meaning of life...;) Thanks for the article. Hope your DaZe as Beautiful as Shanthi's music.

8:44AM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

k

2:21PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

She is totally cute as a button!!!

12:40PM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

Why do humans think that only they can make "music"? Music are sounds that are enjoyable.

9:32AM PDT on Sep 3, 2012

someone should make Shanthy and elephant sized harmonica.

5:39PM PDT on Sep 2, 2012

Good job, Shanthi.

3:28PM PDT on Sep 1, 2012

For good or bad some animals are in zoos and despite the desire of some people for them to be free you can't just release some animals that have been captive for some time back into the wild and think that they will survive. Also for those who are in the the don't anthropomorphize animals, maybe you didn't see this http://news.discovery.com/animals/animals-consciousness-mammals-birds-octopus-120824.html. They really aren't much different than us. And from my experience with the lowlife people I live around, animals are much more intelligent.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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