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  • It's a common saying that elephants never forget,

  • but these magnificent animals are more than giant walking hard drives.

  • The more we learn about elephants,

  • the more it appears that their impressive memory

  • is only one aspect of an incredible intelligence that makes them

  • some of the most social, creative and benevolent creatures on Earth.

  • Unlike many proverbs, the one about elephant memory

  • is scientifically accurate.

  • Elephants know every member in their herd,

  • able to recognize as many as 30 companions by sight or smell.

  • This is a great help when migrating

  • or encountering other potentially hostile elephants.

  • They also remember and distinguish particular cues that signal danger

  • and can recall important locations long after their last visit.

  • But it's the memories unrelated to survival that are the most fascinating.

  • Elephants remember not only their herd companions

  • but other creatures who have made a strong impression on them.

  • In one case, two circus elephants that had briefly performed together

  • rejoiced when crossing paths 23 years later.

  • This recognition isn't limited to others of their species.

  • Elephants have also recognized humans they've bonded with after decades apart.

  • All of this shows that elephant memory goes beyond responses to stimuli.

  • Looking inside their heads, we can see why.

  • The elephant boasts the largest brain of any land mammal,

  • as well as an impressive encephalization quotient.

  • This is the size of the brain relative to what we'd expect for an animal's body size,

  • and the elephants EQ is nearly as high as a chimpanzee's.

  • And despite the distant relation,

  • convergent evolution has made it remarkably similar to the human brain,

  • with as many neurons and synapses

  • and a highly developed hippocampus and cerebral cortex.

  • It is the hippocampus strongly associated with emotion that aides recollection

  • hat aides recollection by encoding important experiences into long-term memories.

  • The ability to distinguish this importance makes elephant memory

  • a complex and adaptable faculty beyond rote memorization.

  • It's what allows elephants who survived a drought in their youth

  • to recognize its warning signs in adulthood,

  • which is why clans with older matriarchs have higher survival rates.

  • Unfortunately, it's also what makes elephants one of the few non-human animals

  • to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • The cerebral cortex, on the other hand, enables problem solving,

  • which elephants display in many creative ways.

  • They also tackle problems cooperatively,

  • sometimes even outwitting the researchers and manipulating their partners.

  • And they've grasped basic arithmetic,

  • keeping track of the relative amounts of fruit in two baskets after multiple changes.

  • The rare combination of memory and problem solving

  • can explain some of elephant's most clever behaviors,

  • but it doesn't explain some of the things we're just beginning to learn

  • about their mental lives.

  • Elephants communicate using everything from body signals and vocalizations,

  • to infrared rumbles that can be heard kilometers away.

  • And their understanding of syntax suggests they have their own language and grammar.

  • This sense of language may even go beyond simple communication.

  • Elephants create art by carefully choosing and combining

  • by carefully choosing and combining different colors and elements.

  • They can also recognize twelve distinct tones of music and recreate melodies.

  • And yes, there is an elephant band.

  • But perhaps the most amazing thing about elephants

  • is a capacity even more important than cleverness:

  • their sense of empathy, altruism and justice.

  • Elephants are the only non-human animals to mourn their dead,

  • performing burial rituals and returning to visit graves.

  • They have shown concern for other species, as well.

  • One working elephant refused to set a log down into a hole

  • where a dog was sleeping,

  • while elephants encountering injured humans have sometimes stood guard

  • and gently comforted them with their trunk.

  • On the other hand, elephant attacks on human villages have usually occurred

  • have usually occurred right after massive poachings or callings, suggesting deliberate revenge.

  • When we consider all this evidence,along with the fact that elephants are one of the few species

  • who can recognize themselves in a mirror,

  • it's hard to escape the conclusion

  • that they are conscious, intelligent and emotional beings.

  • Unfortunately, humanity's treatment of elephants does not reflect this,

  • as they continue to suffer from habitat destruction in Asia,

  • ivory poaching in Africa, and mistreatment in captivity worldwide.

  • Given when we now know about elephants

  • and what they continue to teach us about animal intelligence,

  • it is more important than ever to ensure that what the English poet John Donne described as

  • "nature's great masterpiece," does not vanish from the world's canvas.

It's a common saying that elephants never forget,

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B1 US TED-Ed elephant memory recognize recollection cerebral

【TED-Ed】Why elephants never forget - Alex Gendler

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    Ashley Chen posted on 2014/11/30
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