EleFact Friday: Elephants and Tool Usage

Among the many skills that elephants have shown us, their use of tools is one of the most fascinating. Within the animal kingdom, there are several species that show us how resourceful they can be by utilizing common items in their habitats to achieve some sort of goal: defense, communication, acquiring food and water, and even recreation; these are all things that have been observed with tool use. This skill has shown researchers that some species, elephants included, must possess a certain level of intelligence and cognitive ability to put those skills and tools into practice. 

Both captive and wild elephants have been known to manufacture and use tools with their trunks and feet. Such tools may be used to swat flies or to scratch a particular itch or obtain food that is out of reach. Elephants have also been observed digging holes to drink water, then ripping bark from a tree, chewing the bark into a ball, turning it into a “plug” to fill in the hole, preventing the water from evaporating. African elephants have been seen using tree trunks and heavy branches to weigh down fences so they can climb over them. Asian elephants in India have been known to break electric fences using logs and clear the surrounding wires using their tusks to provide a safe passageway.

Studies on tool use have revealed that elephants are capable of learning by insight, which is the ability to solve problems without trial and error. The ability to manipulate common objects without instruction certainly affirms the high intelligence of the species and provides insight into how they interact with and, to a degree, control their environment.

Photo of Rana

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