Elephant-astic! Watch how an elephant at Berlin Zoo has learned how to peel a BANANA after observing zookeepers eating the fruit
- Most elephants eat bananas whole, and do not attempt to remove the skin
- But one elephant at Berlin Zoo has somehow learnt how to peel the fruit
- Scientists say this shows a new level of manipulative and cognitive abilities
Delicious, rich in potassium and come with their own, biodegradable packaging; bananas are truly one of the ultimate snacks.
And it’s not just humans who think so, as the fruit is a popular delicacy with much of the animal kingdom, including gorillas, bats and elephants.
Most of the time, elephants will scoop up bananas with their trunk and put the whole thing into their mouths.
However, one particularly picky Asian elephant at Berlin Zoo appears to not enjoy eating the fruit’s tough skin, as she has learnt how to peel it off.
Incredible footage reveals how Pang Pha squeezes the banana to break off its top, shakes out its contents, discards the peel, picks up the soft pulp and pops it into her mouth.
Pang Pha (pictured) squeezes the banana to break off its top, shakes out its contents, discards the peel, picks up the soft pulp and pops it into her mouth
Because Pang Pha lives on her own, scientists believe she likely learned this technique by watching her zookeepers peel bananas themselves. This suggests elephants have the cognitive ability to learn ‘complex human-derived manipulation behaviours’
Because Pang Pha lives on her own, scientists believe she likely learned this technique by watching her zookeepers peel bananas themselves.
THE ASIAN ELEPHANT
POPULATION Fewer than 50,000
SCIENTIFIC NAME Elephas maximus
HEIGHT 6.5–11.5 feet
WEIGHT Around 11,000 pounds
LENGTH Around 21 feet
This suggests elephants have the cognitive ability to learn ‘complex human-derived manipulation behaviours’.
‘We discovered a very unique behaviour,’ said Dr Michael Brecht, from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’s Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience.
‘What makes Pang Pha’s banana peeling so unique is a combination of factors—skillfulness, speed, individuality, and the putatively human origin—rather than a single behavioural element.’
Pang Pha does not peel every banana she is given, as eats completely green or yellow ones whole, like her peers.
She also flat-out rejects completely brown bananas, but when presented with a yellow banana with brown patches, she administers her peeling technique.
Indeed, this only applies when she is enjoying her fruity snack alone.
When presented with a pile of yellow-brown bananas around other elephants, Pang Pha eats as many as she can whole, and then saves the last one to peel later.
None of the other elephants at the zoo demonstrate this behaviour, and there are only a handful of recorded instances of it in existence.
In their study of Pang Pha, published today in Current Biology, the Germany-based researchers say that it is still not clear why she peels her bananas at all, let alone in very specific situations.
Their leading theory is that she learnt to do so by watching her keepers, who she was handraised by, de-skin the fruit in front of her before feeding.
A: Pang Pha breaking a banana. B: Percentage of bananas Pang Pha peeled according to its colour when alone. C: Percentage of bananas Pang Pha ate directly according to its colour when alone. D: Percentage of bananas Pang Pha rejected according to its colour when alone
Elephants are known to be particularly dexterous with their trunks, having been seen using them to paint, break into food vans and tickle a human’s nose.
Furthermore, they often demonstrate advanced intelligence, being able to understand that something pointed at is of interest and can guess a human’s age and ethnicity.
But Pang Pha’s banana peeling shows a new level of manipulative and cognitive abilities.
‘Banana peeling by Pha was faster than humans,’ the researchers wrote.
‘Hence, Pha’s haptic strategy is remarkably efficient, as humans are highly skilled manipulators.
‘This impressive performance fits with the rich neuronal innervation of the trunk and its complex motor control.’
Scene from the end of a social feeding experiment of about ten yellow-brown bananas. Pang Pha is in the middle. White arrows mark bananas
Comparison of percentages of directly eaten, rejected, and peeled bananas in the social feeding and solitary feeding condition. Pha is more likely to peel when on her own
The authors are still unsure about why Pang Pha is the only elephant at Berlin Zoo to demonstrate banana peeling.
They wrote: ‘The fact that Pang Pha’s daughter Anchali did not acquire banana peeling suggests that this skill is not easily transmitted by learning.
‘Pha’s tendency to peel only when on her own might have limited possibilities for observational learning.
‘Still, the other elephants presumably watched her peel bananas numerous times.’
The team wonders if such habits are normally passed on within elephant families, and are now looking at other trunk behaviours to test the theory.
Even elephants get hangry! Animals happily work together on tasks – unless food resources are limited, study finds
We can all get a little ‘hangry’ from time to time when forced to operate on an empty stomach.
And it appears elephants are no different.
They happily work together on tasks and have evolved strategies to mitigate competition in their social groups, but cooperation breaks down when food resources are limited, a new study has found.
‘We found that Asian elephants have a diverse repertoire of behaviours to use when cooperating with others, and are careful about how to mitigate competition based on their relationships,’ said Li-Li Li, who led the research with colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan, China.
‘This is an exciting demonstration of how flexible and socially intelligent elephants are!’
Read more here
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