Elephants Show Cooperation on Test

Submitted by Naturenomics Team on Wed, 29/06/2016 - 09:35
By: Lisa Barrett, Research Assistant – Think Elephants International, Inc. Photos: Elise Gilchrist (c) 2014, Think Elephants International, Inc.

An experiment reveals that elephants not only cooperate, but that they understand the logic behind teamwork. Jorge Ribas reports on the findings. In the test, two animals had to work together - each pulling on a rope in order to tug a platform towards them. Scientists claim that elephants' understanding of the need to co-operate shows that they belong in an "elite group" of intelligent, socially complex animals.

Dr Joshua Plotnik said it was exciting to find a way to study elephant behaviour in such detail: "We see them doing amazing things in the wild, but we can see from this that they're definitely co-operating. When we released one elephant before the other, they quickly learned to wait for their partner before they pulled the rope. They learnt that rule [to wait for the other elephant to arrive] quicker than chimps doing the same task. And one elephant - the youngest in the study - quickly learned that it did not have to do any pulling to get a treat. She could just put her foot on the rope, so her partner had to do all the work." The Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) had already been taught that pulling on a rope brought a food reward on a platform within reach.

However, the research changed the apparatus so that one rope was threaded all the way around a platform - like a belt through belt loops - so if one end was tugged, the rope simply slipped out and the platform did not budge. However, if two elephants each took an end of the rope and pulled, the platform moved towards them and they could could claim their treats.


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