Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Mor Kwan's Elephant Clinic:

Intelligence: A Natural Gift for Elephant

Intelligence is believed to be a phenomenon of mental property involving numerous abilities such as memory, thinking, learning, reasoning, planning, comprehension the complicated ideas, and problem solving. Intelligence not only shows in human, but it is also found in other species, e.g., chimpanzees, dolphins, and cetaceans. Moreover, the mammal regarded as one of the most intelligent creatures in the world is elephant that manifests brightness through its various behaviors and abilities such as the great memory, training for show and painting, and using a tool. Intelligence is a riddle which scientists attempt to search for this answer.

Lateral side of Asian elephant 's brain

Brain and Brain Structure
Brain, an important complex organ, is interested to study because the brain and brain structure may directly influence on intelligence. From several previous reports, elephant was born with 35% of adult brain weight, so the average brain weight for adult elephant was 5000 g. The comparison the immature brain size at birth and the fully developed adult brain that might predict the capacity to learn and remember through elder and experience from childhood to adulthood was used to measure intelligence. Certain paper commented that elephant was not born with the instincts of survival thus elephant need to learn for life while growing up, there is very long period of time, probably at least 10 years or throughout life, for elephant learning. Nevertheless, brain weight is not the only factor affecting elephant’s intellect, but the structures and functions in each part of the brain also relate to the brain potential.

Brains of human, pilot whale and elephant, viewed from below. Note the very large temporal lobe (1a) of the elephant brain. (1) cerebrum. (2) cerebellum.

Brains of human, pilot whale and elephant, viewed from the side. (1) cerebrum. (1a) temporal lobe of cerebrum. (2) cerebellum.

The forebrain called “cerebrum” is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum is divided into two cerebral hemispheres covered with "cerebral cortex", the outer layer of the cerebral hemispheres consisting of abundant neuron involving in many functions such as, sensory perception, memory, and all higher cognitive proceeding, including the ability to concentrate like tool use, reason, and concious thought. A very thick, large, and highly intricate cerebral cortex together with a brain convolution, prominent sulci and gyri, showing a complex gyral pattern with numerous brain folds can be found in elephant. Increasing the volume and surface area of the brain to contain the amount of neurons within because of the complexity of the cerebral cortex creates the brain more efficient and implies the complicated intelligence of elephant. In addition, elephant is one of three species: human, chimpanzee, and elephant, which can use tools. Elephant use its trunk like an arm, despite having no hand. Fly switching with branches is a type of tool use to reduce flies around elephant. Throwing objects as weapons may occur when elephant encounters a stranger or danger.

Moreover, a subpart of the cerebrum known as “temporal lobe” is large in elephant that indicates capably response regarding hearing and auditory memory, vision pathways, learning, memory, and emotions. Hearing sense of elephant is very much advanced. Elephant communicates through a variety of sounds including infrasound, and accurately remember these different sounds. Some researches mentioned that elephants could hear and respond to other's loud calls from distances as well as a few kilometres away. However, the hearing ability not depend on only the temporal lobe of the cerebrum, but a structure of ears also is correlated with it.

A gentle touch of trunk is a kind of communication as body language. Two young elephants in the picture seem to demonstrate the method of greeting like shaking hands.

"Hippocampus" is one critical component of the brain associated with the formation and consolidation of new facts and memories which may function as a memory gateway and new memories must pass this gateway before permanently storage in the brain. Also, hippocampus is liked to control other major mechanisms including emotional processing, and neuroendocrine function. In elephant, the brain exhibits well developed, a very large and highly convoluted, hippocampus therefore elephant has the long excellent memories with the wide variety of emotional behaviors, e.g., joy, playfulness, humour, grief and mourning. For instance, the oldest and wisest female in the elephant herd called matriarch who controls the daily activity of the herd and leads her family to survive in the wilderness, she remembers where to go during drought periods, what plants can eat, and how to do in danger for she already surmounted these situations. For this reason, learning and cognition from the elder and the experiences to accumulate in the strong memories, considered as the great survival tool, are very essential for young elephant before the young grows up to adult.

At the lower back of the brain is a region of hind brain named “cerebellum” located, also the cerebellum is similar to the cerebrum but smaller. This structure plays the important roles in the coordination of voluntary motor movement, balance and equilibrium, and muscle tone. Enlargement of the cerebellum and a complicated pattern of the cerebellar surface with numerous convolutions are visible in elephant that the high level of cerebellar development is associated with the prominent skill of the motor function. There are many abilities and movement performance appeared as follows. Trunk, a remarkable feature organ, is an important organ of an elephant's life which it is controlled the movements by the cerebellum. Elephant uses the trunk as a hand for a lot of activity, e.g., for feeding, for drinking, and for picking up the objects. When elephant roam in the wild composing of diverse features such as mountain range, valley, escarpment, plain, evergreen forest, grassland, and creek, hence elephant needs to have the deftness and outstanding balance for locomotion.


Intelligence of elephant results from marvelous composition and function in each part of the brain which unites to be the smart brain designed for effectively learning and cognition process. Even though, several intelligent behavior and performance manifest in elephant, not many knowledge of the elephant brain has been studied. The fact of elephant’s brain and intelligence remains mysterious and need to intensively investigate in the future.

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