Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant
Posted on August 21, 2011 Comments (7)
Another example of very cool animal behavior. This Asian Elephant, seemed to consider the problem, devise a solution and then go get a stool to reach food that could not be reached without a tool.
Further inspired by Köhler’s chimpanzee studies, in experiment 4 we conducted 8 additional sessions to investigate whether Kandula would stack items to reach food. For these sessions, the baited branches were hung at a height that could be reached by stacking three butcher block cutting boards or by the use of other objects. In addition, the elephant was given sticks and other enrichment items. Kandula first touched several items and then moved two items, a plastic disk and a block under the suspended branches, placing one front foot on each in an unsuccessful attempt to reach for the branch. He solved the problem in an unexpected novel manner, moving and standing on the object closest in size to the absent cube, a large ball. Standing on unstable platforms such as this had not been previously observed. He repeated this behavior 9 times during this session. During the session’s last minutes, Kandula picked up a block ~2 m from the food and placed it directly on top of a block that he placed under the food in a previous attempt. He stood on the stacked blocks and attempted to reach the food but was unsuccessful. He stacked two blocks again in the second and sixth sessions but each time his trunk was several inches from the food.
This is very cool research. I do wonder why they didn’t provide more videos (and in a more user-friendly format than .mov files). I made them available via YouTube.
It seems like a very interesting area to have more experiments with more elephants (and continuing to work with Kandula: he seems to be very curious elephant, good for him).
Related: Orangutan Attempts to Hunt Fish with Spear – Bird Using Bait to Catch Fish – Crows Transferring Their Understanding to Novel Problem – Capuchin Monkeys Using Stone Tools – Fighting Elephant Poaching With Science – Photo of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam
I don’t really understand why the view for the stacking video isn’t a bit better. It seems like they could have provided a better angle to see what was going on. It also would be interesting to see the elephant attempting to stand up on the ball (I imagine just the front two legs). Their description of the stacking attempt is a bit more impressive than the video they showed (in my opinion).
Overall this is a very cool experiment. This is the kind of thing I figured being a scientist was about as a kid. Of course, I figured it was similar to expanding what we have here to fill the whole year – doing this one day and all sorts of other cool exciting stuff the next. Not that this is the highlights of a long research project.