Can Elephants Solve Puzzles?

Two Asian elephants

by David Ker |
Updated on

A recent study has tested the ability of the animals to open puzzle boxes containing food.

A research project has demonstrated that wild Asian elephants are able to problem solve.

Elephants in zoos have previously shown the capacity to innovate, but this was the first time puzzle solving had been investigated in a wild elephant population.

The six-month study involved placing jackfruit in closed boxes. The animals were then observed to see whether they were able to retrieve the aromatic fruit.

The experiment took place at the Salakpra Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, with the results published in the Animal Behaviour journal.

Cameras recorded the mammals approaching three puzzle boxes, each of which had a different means by which it could be opened.

The first box could be accessed by pulling on a chain, the second by pushing a door, and the third by sliding a door open.

Results showed that persistence pays off. Of the 77 elephants who approached the puzzle boxes, those who interacted with the box multiple times learned to open a door of any type more quickly as their interactions increased.

Overall, 11 elephants solved one compartment type, eight solved two compartment types and five solved all three types.

The study’s lead author Sarah Jacobson said: “This is the first research study to show that individual wild elephants have different willingness and abilities to problem solve in order to get food.

“This is important knowledge, because how animals think and innovate may influence their ability to survive in environments that are rapidly changing due to human presence.”

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