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Asian elephants are almost as good as humans at math!

In a study by a team SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) in Japan, researchers found that an Asian elephants' sense of numbers is not affected by distance, scale or proportions of existing numerosities, and thus offers initial experimental evidence that non-human animals have cognitive characteristics comparable to human counting.

In this study, the researchers intended to reproduce the results of prior research that already showed that Asian elephants have brilliant numeric ability.

They developed a new method to test how well the animals can judge relative quantity. They successfully trained a 14-year old Asian elephant called Authai from the Ueno Zoo in Japan to use a computer-controlled touch panel. Authai was rewarded every time she chose the figures featuring the larger number of items. This, she did correctly 181 out of 271 times, which is a success rate of 66.8 per cent. Her ability to precisely identify the figure with the most fruits on it, was not affected by the size, distance or fraction of the comparisons.

Apparently, this is not an ability that the Asian elephant shares with the two species of African elephants, since the species diverged more than 7.6 million years ago.


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