We’re back for EleFACT Friday to talk about elephant brains and what they’re capable of. We know already that elephants are intelligent, but what is it about their brains that contributes to this intelligence and emotional awareness?
Weighing in at over 5 kg (11 lbs), elephants have the largest brains of any living or extinct land mammal. At birth, the elephant’s brain already weighs 30%-40% of its adult weight. Both Asian and Afirican elephants have a very large neocortex, similar to humans, other apes, and certain species of dolphins. The size of the cerebral cortex, which contributes to cognitive processing, is larger than any primate species, and it is suggested that elephants are on the same level of great apes in terms of cognitive abilities for tool use and tool making, and are equal to dolphins in terms of problem-solving.
The hippocampus contributes to the ability to process emotion and memory. In elephants, the hippocampus is very large and much bigger proportionally than in any human, primate, or cetacean. While it is believed the hippocampus plays a significant role in relationship building, recent studies indicate it is increasingly emerging as a part of a ‘moral brain’ as well. Other research shows that chronic stress can cause hippocampus atrophy.
In captive elephants, there are often aspects of behavior that can’t be fully explained, but are linked to a lifetime of trauma. Elephants like Lady, who we know suffered during her lifetime in captivity, seem to get a little stuck when it comes to social behaviors. There is no doubt that trauma affects such emotional beings deeply, but it is also possible that there are also physiological reasons that Lady’s past may impact her ability or willingness to socialize with other elephants in a comfortable way. No matter the reason, that aspect of her is nurtured and loved as much as the rest of her.
There is still plenty of research to be done about the brains of elephants, but it’s easy to see that their intelligence and emotional awareness is deeply rooted in their biology.
Lady and her big brain
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Victoria Jones saysMay 28, 2021 at 3:48 pm
Sweet sweet Lady
Ellen Bollinger saysMay 28, 2021 at 3:48 pm
Maybe one day we will respect elephants etc enough to protect them
Carol saysMay 28, 2021 at 4:10 pm
And a big, beautiful brain it is!!!??
Kenneth B. Newman saysMay 28, 2021 at 4:22 pm
Another trait or a human greeting that I have read about before concerning elephants, may or may not be an old wives tale…..I heard years ago , or read years ago, if a person meets an elephant, and blows their breath into its trunk end/ opening, the elephant takes that as friendship, and the elephant remembers that person……Any truth to this, or is it just some nonsense and could actually disturb the elephant and make them mad ??????
Kat Blais saysMay 29, 2021 at 4:31 pm
When meeting an elephant that sounds like a good way to get hit in the face. When you have a relationship with them, some elephants like you to blow in their trunk, but it seems to be more about what they can sense from the smells than anything else.
Wim saysMay 28, 2021 at 6:17 pm
Interesting elefact again.
Humans have still much to learn only to exist in the shadow of Elephants.
john saysMay 28, 2021 at 6:28 pm
Y’all are the best! Thank you for what you do!
Julie saysMay 28, 2021 at 6:32 pm
Keep it coming! The more we know about them, the more there is to love!
Julia Mercedes Eden saysMay 28, 2021 at 7:46 pm
Fabulous getting the elephant ? facts but I’m not in the least bit surprised at the conclusions and findings of an elephant’s brain, ratio of it’s size in proportion to total size at birth, and the comparisons of their species brains being ‘‘similar’ (if not superior to human brains). They certainly seem to be able to use their ability in more positive and productive ways. For example the interpretation of suffering and yet still having the emotional intellect to use this experience to forgive (but not to forget as we all know), rather than the human way of not forgiving nor forgetting and further still, bearing a grudge sometimes in an extreme manner which elephants ? so differently and significantly don’t do. This is what I find so extremely humbling, knowing just how extremely violated and abused so very many of them have been. We certainly could learn a great deal from their more mature response but so wastefully, we don’t, naturally (because we’re less emotionally superior to the elephants). These qualities are plentiful in elephants ? and I feel they contribute hugely to the huge numbers of people who simply adore ? elephants ? and what they stand for. Despite so very many being held in captivity they still outdo us in their behaviour and responses – I bow down to them quite literally without patronising them. Love ❤️ you gentle souls enormously ??❤️??
SHEILA saysMay 28, 2021 at 8:21 pm
YES INDEED SWEET LIL LADY IS A VERY TOUGH CASE IN HER CAUTION ABOUT FEAR OF OTHER LADIES AND LACK OF SOCIAL INTERACTION! ITS VERY UNUSUALLY A FEMALE ELEPHANT WILL REMAIN SO UNSOCIAL IN THE WILD! I WONDER IF RESEARCH CAN BE DONE. BACKTRACKING WITH THAT ZOO LADY WAS AT AND THE CIRCUS SHE WAS AT BEFORE THE ZOO! PERHAPS SOMEONE HAS INFO TO HELP CHANGE LADY ?IN HER FEAR AND ANTI SOCIAL MANNER! IF RANA WAS PUT IN CHUTE NEXT TO LADY
IN A CHUTE FIRST I WONDER IF LADY COULD BE COMFORTABLE? I PRAY LADY LOSES HER FEARS SOON AND JOINS THE LOVELY❤️ LADIES????
Kat Blais saysMay 29, 2021 at 4:30 pm
Lady is actually much less comfortable if she is in the chute and the other elephants come by. We haven’t tried it, but it happens sometimes during her soaks and it makes her uncomfortable.
Katie Howard saysMay 28, 2021 at 8:34 pm
I love Lady! ❤️?❤️
…that’s it! ?
Joy saysMay 28, 2021 at 9:37 pm
That helps me understand Lady more. Poor, dear, sweet Lady!
JoAnn Merriman-Eaton saysMay 29, 2021 at 7:42 pm
First of all I find your Friday Elephant Facts so interesting. Elephants are profound beings, superior and so much better than humans. Cannot imagine any human chained, beaten, caged, shocked everyday of their life for 40 or 50 years being able to not only endure the agony and pain……but to be able to forgive and trust another human. Yet this magnificent being is able to. I honor and adore elephants, and I am so appreciative of GSE and any true habitat that provides love, nurturing and care for them.
Maureen saysMay 30, 2021 at 9:57 am
Thank you for NOT comparing elephant brains exclusively to homo sapiens, too often assumed to be the gold standard lol! I wonder why Lady’s less-social behavior is directed toward other elephants, rather than people, at whose hands she suffered. Or is she wary of people as well?
Kat Blais saysMay 31, 2021 at 12:13 am
it takes a lot for her to trust people, but she is getting better with it. she becomes comfortable with new people much more quickly now.
Kristie saysJune 16, 2021 at 5:14 pm
I love Lady so much. She’s very special to me.
Sara saysJune 16, 2021 at 6:45 pm
She certainly is special. Thank you!
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EleFact Friday: The Incredible Elephant Brain