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Why elephants never forget - Alex Gendler


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It’s a common saying that elephants never forget. But the more we learn about elephants, the more it appears that their impressive memory is only one aspect of an incredible intelligence that makes them some of the most social, creative, and benevolent creatures on Earth. Alex Gendler takes us into the incredible, unforgettable mind of an elephant.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

How do elephants communicate? The website Elephant Voices allows you access to elephant vocalizations of all types. Plug in your earphones and have a listen! While on this site check out Echo of the elephants, one of the longest studied matriarchs of any elephant group in the world. You can also watch her story on PBS Nature. Learn about the Amboseli Trust for Elephants set up by scientist Cynthia Moss. Here, she talks about Elephant Mothers and how they communicate.

For more about elephant communication, follow the research of Cornell scientist Michael Pardo: Do Asian elephant calls have grammar-like elements? Learn how he is trying to determine if these intelligent, social animals are communicating like humans do. Humans tend to care more about conservation in animals that are most similar to us. Would this lesson inspire you to care more? The Elephant Listening Project at Cornell has lots more to share about this highly, cognitive animal’s forms of communication. Really love elephants? Watch the 60 Minutes special on The Secret Language of Elephants for more reasons to admire this organism.

Standing tall, head waggling, ear spreading and periscope sniff? Are we talking another language? These are some of the descriptions scientists are using to explain elephant communication. Scientist Joyce Poole, who has been studying elephants for over 37 years, has observed all of these interactions in elephant communities. Go to National Geographic to learn more about elephant sign language. Scientists have also discovered that Elephants Get the Point of Pointing. Read the NY Times article and find out what the point of this article is. For a whole series of articles about elephants, scroll to the bottom of this National Geographic link and find something you are interested in learning about elephants and pursue it.

Elephants use sticks to scratch their backs? The use of tools indicates a higher intelligence level in an animal species. Read here about elephant tool use. What do you think? Watch here as an elephant picks up a stick and uses it to clean beneath its toenails. Read the article then watch the videos at this Scientific American link: The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Think. Elephants can outwit humans? Find out what happened here. How do zookeepers test elephant intelligence?

Elephants have been shown to have emotions. One unique emotion that they share with humans is mourning. Watch this National Geographic video as herd members come upon the bones of their fallen matriarch. Do other animals also grieve? Tough questions that Barbara King tries to answer in her book: How Animals Grieve. NPR interviews the author for more on this topic.

Now you know some things about elephants. Did you know how really their very survival is threatened? Read about the plight of African elephants here and then go to National Geographic’s article Ivory Wars. Learn how you can help conserve these magnificent animals at the How to Help link at the top of the page. Knowledge is power. Now you know the story. Let your voice be heard.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Alex Gendler
  • Animator Avi Ofer
  • Director Avi Ofer
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen

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