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Elephant Intelligence

on February 20, 2010
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BBC News: “The Truth Behind Elephant BrainpowerIn previous editions of News to Note, we’ve frequently reported on the high intelligence of crows. Now, it’s elephants’ turn again.

Researchers studying elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park have come to a surprising, though tentative, theory: elephants may be able to distinguish between different human languages. The researchers have also tested the elephants’ performance at such tasks as counting lions, identifying peers’ voices, and whether they know the age of other elephants.

The elephants in the park may be able to distinguish between three human languages they regularly hear.

In one test, University of Sussex animal psychologist Karen McComb used a loudspeaker to play the same type of elephant call to an elephant matriarch. McComb calculated that these matriarchs are able to identify at least 100 other individual elephants by their calls.

The scientists also suspect, based on anecdotal observation, that the elephants in the park may be able to distinguish between three human languages they regularly hear: Maa (spoken by local herders), the language of the local Kamba people, and English (spoken by tourists). The elephants occasionally clash with Maa speakers, who hunt elephants known to have killed their cattle or tribesmen. English-speaking tourists, on the other hand, present little threat to the elephants. The researchers’ hypothesis is that elephants will become agitated and nervous when listening to recordings of Maa being spoken, which is the basis for a new intelligence test.

Commenting on both the latest research, as well as studies we have previously reported on (such as in September 2008), St. Andrew’s University evolutionary psychologist Dick Byrne said,

“[Elephants have] proved to have abilities which have only been found elsewhere in the great apes and humans. We are a bit limited by how little we know about elephants, but the odd glimmers we get seem to be rather remarkable. Their abilities didn’t seem to be limited in quite the same way as monkeys, apes, and children would be.”

Because evolutionists frequently imply that similarities in human and ape intelligence and behavior are evidence of evolution (ScienceDaily provides a current example), examples of impressive animal intelligence, such as in elephants, counters the evolutionary perspective. God gave many animals sophisticated mental abilities, but no animals were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

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