The Town Elephant and the Country Elephant

In our 13th Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Sarah Jacobson and Sasha Montero explained their ongoing research that investigates into the personalities of Asian elephants.

“Some people may actually be surprised to hear us say that animals can have different personalities,” said researcher Sarah Jacobson, “but when scientists are talking about personalities, we are really just talking about consistent behaviour across time and context.”

Elephant personality traits that the research team were researching. Screenshots from Jacobson and Montero’s lecture.

As exemplified by Jacobson, when people think of a person as being extroverted, the individual would likely be extroverted across a range of scenarios, and would not suddenly become shy. Similarly, scientists could look at an elephant’s personality traits such as aggression/ submission, sociability, neophilia/ neophobia, boldness, and problem-solving and innovation.

Metal box and cameras. Screenshots from Jacobson and Montero’s lecture.

One of the methodologies that the research team adopted was the “puzzle box”. By introducing a man-made metal box with delicious jackfruit concealed behind a push, pull and slide door, the Jacobson and her team could observe, for instance, which elephants were intrigued by the novel metal object and which ones were more conservative.

They have also set up cameras across the forest and obtained more than 300 hours of elephant footages. According to Jacobson, they had already started analyzing the social interactions of elephants in the footages.

But in order to identify an elephant’s personality, the research team had to first be able to tell the elephants apart.


“It can be especially difficult to tell elephants apart from one another,” said researcher Sasha Montero, pointing out that elephants do not have a distinct coat pattern much like the furred mammals do.

To compensate that, Montero had to look at the other physical characteristics on the animal.

Elephant ears and tails. Screenshots from Jacobson and Montero’s lecture.

The first things that Montero recorded were the ears, especially the earlobe, side fold and top fold, as well as the tails including tail length and tail brush.

Elephant tusks. Screenshot from Jacobson and Montero’s lecture.

In addition, Montero noted down the individual’s back shape, skin pigmentation, bumps and lumps on the body and, if present, the tusks or tushes.

Montero hoped to provide the rangers and farmers that she was working with an ID guide in case they ran into an elephant.

“We’re hoping that our research into taking the elephant perspective and getting into what makes these individuals different might be helpful in developing better strategies in the future,” expressed Jacobson.

You can now watch the lecture in full here.

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