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Elephants and their Shocking Math Abilities

Elephants and their Shocking Math Abilities

When it comes to brainpower, elephants may have more than just long memories. The BBC reports that the sizeable pachyderms may have a host of other exceptional mental skills that have not been undocumented. Included among these potential abilities are an ear for voices and languages, as well as an eye for numbers.

A team of researchers from the University of Sussex, set out to discover how many elephant calls an individual elephant can remember, calls that are sometimes heard from as far as several kilometers away. Through a playback study focusing on the elephants of Amboseli National Park in Kenya, they determined that elephant matriarchs can learn to recognize at least 100 other unseen elephants by voice alone.

The Sussex team also observed behavior that led them to wonder whether the Amboseli elephants can discriminate between different human languages, specifically the Maa language of the Masai, the language of the Kamba people, and the English they hear spoken by the region’s tourists. Informal observations have shown an anxious, tense reaction to Maa, and a calm, relaxed reaction to English, but the Sussex researchers explain that it is still too early to know for sure, as they have just begun controlled study of the elephants’ reactions to recordings.

Meanwhile, a study out of Japan points to elephants’ remarkable numerical skills, such as the ability to distinguish between two similar quantities of objects. Elephants outperformed monkeys, apes, and even human children when tested on their aptitude for recognizing the difference between two quantities of objects — for example five from six.

Primates and children are capable of identifying the difference between smaller numbers of objects but are limited when it comes to discriminating between larger numbers. In contrast, the elephants involved in the study were equally good at telling five from six as one from two.

Read more: Do Good, News & Issues, Pets, ,

By Helen Jupiter, MNN

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Robyn, selected from Mother Nature Network

Mother Nature Network's mission is to help you improve your world. From covering the latest news on health, science, sustainable business practices and the latest trends in eco-friendly technology, MNN.com strives to give you the accurate, unbiased information you need to improve your world locally, globally, and personally all in a distinctive thoughtful, straightforward, and fun style.

136 comments

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1:49PM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

An interesting researched about elephants. Thank you for sharing Robyn.


6:59AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Fascinating ! Animals are so smart !

4:24AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

fascinating

10:50PM PDT on Jul 7, 2011

Very interesting!

10:40PM PST on Mar 9, 2011

This is sooo cool!!! :)
Shared on Facebook.

11:47AM PST on Mar 9, 2011

I always remember that animals were on earth before humans.

12:28PM PST on Feb 28, 2011

Animals are finally getting credit for their smarts! It is nice to see this making the news more and more. Animals have so much to teach us !

1:38PM PDT on Jul 12, 2010

interesting, thanks!

10:20PM PDT on Jun 29, 2010

smart creatures!

1:49AM PDT on Jun 24, 2010

elephants are brilliant I hope I could see or meet one.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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