The Nosy Neighbour And The Trunky Elephant

In our 32nd Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Hoi-Lam Jim returned to GTAEF once again after testing whether our elephants were capable of eavesdropping.

“[Eavesdropping is] whether animal can form opinions of other individuals by watching them interact with a third party,” explained Hoi, a PhD student who had studied animal behaviour in her Master’s degree.

Having previously worked with dogs and wolves, Hoi found that the man’s best friend were capable of differentiating between a “good” and a “bad” person through indirect reputation formation, otherwise known as eavesdropping.

Hoi then wondered whether elephants, another intelligent animal species, had mastered the same trait.

“Asian elephants in general have a long history of interacting with humans and working with humans,” said Hoi, “so they’re socialized with humans like dogs, but they’re not domesticated.”

With this in mind, Hoi came to work with our elephants at GTAEF and devised two studies.

In the first study, Hoi tested the elephant-human cooperation with the famously known string-pulling task. A special moveable table was designed in a way that two individuals (human-animal or animal-animal) had to pull the string on two ends of the table simultaneously in order to move it and reach the food treats on the table.

This set-up enabled Hoi to test whether an elephant would cooperate with humans to gain access to food, and whether a third elephant would learn to achieve such task through eavesdropping.

In the second study, Hoi created a scenario where an elephant could interact with either of two humans, except that one would give the elephant food and one would not.

The was to test whether an elephant would choose to work with a “good” person or avoid a “bad” person.

You can now read her study in full.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily represent Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.