What Have Elephants, Dolphins, Humans & Great Apes Got In Common?
October 31, 2006 (4 Responses)
THE ANSWER to that question is actually self awareness, according to recent research published on the subject. More specifically, recent testing has confirmed that some Elephants can recognise themselves in a mirror, leading researchers to the conclusion that they are self aware.
When it comes to Elephants, Dolphins, Humans and Great Apes there are other commonalities too. All of theseÂ animals also lead socially complex lives and display empathyâ€”concern and understanding of another’s feelings – although to see how humanity behaves towards itself or the rest of the animal kingdom would make you wonder sometimes.
This latest research involved the placement of a durable, 8-by-8-foot (2.5-by-2.5-meter) mirror inside the elephants’ yard at the Bronx Zoo in New York. All three Asian elephants were then put through a series of self-recognition tests to assess their capacity for self awareness.
In the mark test the researchers marked each elephant with a white X on one cheek and drew an invisible X on the other. The only way for the elephants to see the marks was by looking in the mirror. “If it cared about feeling [the mark], it would have touched either one. When Happy went to the mirror, she repeatedly touched the visible mark and never touched the invisible, sham mark,” a researcher said.
While the other two elephants failed the mark test, the researchers note that less than half of chimpanzees tested have passed the mark test so this result is actually quite encouraging.
I’m quite delighted by this research – speaking as someone who believes in the principles and evidence of evolution – and would recommend to anyone that if you ever get the chance to get up close and personal with any of these amazing animals, do so. I’ve had the great fortune to spend some time with Asian Elephants and they are gentle giants and very loving creatures around their kind. Dolphins too are amazing to watch but it’s hard to get very close to them. As for Great Apes I’ve not yet had the opportunity to get anywhere near them, but I’ve seen plenty of documentary shows on them and it’s not really such a stretch to see the family resemblence now is it?