In movies, books, and stories, elephants have been portrayed as highly-intelligent individuals who are similar to humans in many ways. But is there any truth behind these depictions, or is pop culture just pulling at our heartstrings? Here’s a list of some surprising similarities so you can decide for yourself!
1. Elephants can be left-handed
While they don’t have hands like we do, elephants show preferences for using one tusk over the other. Some are “left tusked” while others are “right tusked,” always using their dominant tusk to root in the ground or break branches. Elephants even differ in which way they grab with their trunks—clockwise or counterclockwise!
2. They recognize themselves in mirrors
One test used to determine if a species is self-aware is the Mirror Test. While the animal is sleeping, a mark is drawn on a part of their body, and they are then given a mirror. If they start to investigate the mark, we know that they understand that the reflection in the mirror is of them. Only a handful of species have passed this test, and elephants are one of them.
3. They understand the importance of teamwork
Like humans, elephants are social creatures and understand the importance of working together. Researchers found that elephants are easily able to learn to pull on two ropes to get some tasty treats by working together—a task that they would not have been able to do alone.
4. They use tools
While they can’t use hammers and chisels, elephants are still able to use tools to solve problems. One example is an elephant making a step stool by rolling a large cube under a melon that was hanging just out of reach.
5. Elephants empathize
One of the most amazing things about elephants is their ability to recognize emotions. Elephants comfort each other when they are stressed. They do this both physically, by patting and hugging with their trunks, and vocally, by making soft, reassuring chirping sounds.
6. Elephants recognize different languages
Elephants in some parts of Africa can differentiate between the languages of two tribes. When they hear people speaking the Masai language, they become fearful as the Masai are sometimes violent with them. When they hear the Kamba language, however, they remain calm, as the Kamba do not harm them.
7. Elephant moms need babysitters, too
It's not just human parents who need breaks from their youngsters! Elephant moms will often entrust their babies to other members of the herd for a few hours to get some rest and some alone time of their own.
8. They can get sunburnt
It might seem like elephants are too thick-skinned to get sunburnt, but that’s not the case. The sun’s rays burn them, too—but, like humans, they’ve developed a form of sunscreen. Elephants cover themselves in mud and dust as protection.
9. We have similar body language
Humans do all sorts of weird things with their bodies, but as it turns out, so do elephants! Like human children suck their thumbs, baby elephants suck their trunks to comfort themselves. Similarly, elephants will wrap their trunks around each other like a handshake or a hug when they greet one another.
10. Some elephants are gay
It might be hard to believe, but it’s true. Many elephants have been found to be in same-sex relationships— some exclusively so—both in the wild and in captivity.
11. They mourn their dead
When an elephant dies, the members of its herd and even other elephants who come across the body grieve and show respect. Elephants bury their dead with branches and spend days standing vigil over the body. Elephants even shed tears of sadness during these times.
12. They can live to be over 70 years old
Elephants have a similar lifespan to humans, living approximately 70 years in the wild. The oldest elephant, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was 86 years old.
So, there you have it. Although elephants look nothing like us, these giant pachyderms are more similar to us than we might have guessed. Who knows what other similarities we’ll find as we come to understand them more.