Mind, memory and feelings

An elephant has the biggest brain of all land animals, which is to be expected if you look at the animal�s body. Normally elephants are considered to be among the most intelligent of all animals, together with dolphins and apes. Obviously it is rather difficult to measure the intelligence of an elephant, but everyone who deals with them knows how clever they are. Perhaps something might become clear if we look at the weight of a human baby�s brain and compare it to the wieight of an adult�s brain, and then look at an animal�s brain weight at birth in comparison to the fully-grown animal brain:

% of adult brain weight
human baby 28%
cow�s calf 90%
young chimpanzee 54%
young elephant 35%

The higher the weight at birth, the more the young animal knows instinctively; the lower it is, the more it has to learn and as such it can become more intelligent.

As we have said, a young elephant has a lot to learn, just like humans, which indicates it depends more on understanding than instinct.

Elephants use branches as tools, and use them to build dams on rivers to make the water level rise so as to make it easier to bathe. They have also been observed digging a hole at the edge of a dirty pool in order to get purer water. Domesticated elephants in Asia often have a bell put around their necks so that their keepers can hear where they are. Once, such elephants wanted to eat bananas at night, but they were betrayed by their bells. That is why the elephants stuffed the bells with mud, and it took some time before the humans discovered how the elephants had been able to take the bananas in complete silence.

Everyone knows that elephants have good memories. They remember where good food can be found and old matriarchs know where there are waterholes even if they have not been there for a long time. They also recognize other elephants even if they have been separated for quite some time. Domesticated elephants that were once together but were sold to different owners, greet each other very warmly when they meet again, just like old school friends who see each other again. Scientists have discovered that those parts of the brain that are reserved for memory are very big indeed in elephants.

People used to think that animals did not have any feelings, and that only humans could experience emotions. Now we know that this is not true: experienced researchers (like Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss, who have been studying elephants for years) even go so far as to claim that elephants are able to experience any emotion that humans can.

Elephants have been observed playing, fooling around, being angry and even falling in love. Elephants help each other and will try to save a member of their group even if they may endanger themselves. They are extremely happy when they meet friends and genuinely sad when an elephant dies. They often keep watch over a dead friend, as if they cannot or will not say goodbye. They sometimes cover them with branches or leaves as if they want to bury them. When elephants find bones of dead elephants, they study them for a long time. It is even possible that they know who the elephant was, and are remembering things about him whilst looking at and sniffing its bones.

People who work with elephants in zoos or circuses claim that elephants can weep. Perhaps people have known about this all the time and that might be the reason why so many see elephants as unique animals.

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