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After doing some research, the caretakers found that these two elephants had been together for only a few months in a circus more than two decades earlier, but their memory of each other was crystal clear — based on how excited they were to reunite.

An elephant never forgets - phrase meaning and origin

Elephants can also remember individual humans, including those who were kind and those who were not. In fact, elephants may even have a special alert call for "human" and use it as a way to alert family members to potential danger from people.

Elephants remember the way to watering holes even after a long span of time or distance. They also can remember the way to alternative watering or feeding areas should the need arise.


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This is one of the reasons it's crucial for younger elephants to spend plenty of time with older family members, so the knowledge is passed down and they'll be able to find their own way when they are adults. Sixteen of 81 calves born in the park that year died in a nine-month period, a 20 percent mortality rate, much higher than the typical 2 percent; 10 of the dead were from the group that remained in the park, where feed and water were scarce. Researchers concluded that the older elephants recalled a drought in the park that lasted from to , and how their packs survived the slim pickings by migrating to lusher areas a distance away.

None of the elephants that stayed behind were old enough to remember the previous dry spell.

Elephants also apparently recognize and can keep track of the locations of as many as 30 companions at a time, psychologist Richard Byrne of the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and other researchers discovered during a study at Amboseli. These elephants are doing it with 30 traveling-mates. But elephants "almost certainly know every [member] in their group.

Is It True That Elephants Never Forget?

When it comes to smarts, elephants are right up there with dolphins, apes and humans, says WCS cognitive scientist Diana Reiss and colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta. They reported in in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that elephants, like the other mammals in that exclusive circle, are the only animals known to recognize their reflections in a mirror. Zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants in Nairobi, Kenya, is an authority on pachyderms who has studied them since the s.

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He recounts becoming so well acquainted with an elephant in Tanzania's Lake Manyara National Park early in his career that he could actually walk beside her in the wild. He left the area in to write his thesis and did not return again for four years. But when he came back, he says, it was as though he'd never left. You have free article s left. Already a subscriber?

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