4 Elephants Facts That Prove They're Low-key Geniuses

Elephants can imitate human speech. Why didn't anybody tell us this sooner?
4 Elephants Facts That Prove They're Low-key Geniuses

Elephants don’t sound real. They sound more like a prank God pulled to make people doubt their own sanity. Just try describing an elephant and by the time you get to the satellite-dish ears, the XXXL vampire fangs, and the nose-tentacles, a part of you should seriously start to wonder if you haven’t actually imagined these magical beasts during a fever dream. But, against all logic, elephants exist, and appropriately for creatures that should not be, they’re also capable of some truly unbelievable things, like how…

Elephants Can Imitate Human Speech

Let’s be real: if you heard an elephant “talk,” you’d crap yourself hard enough to achieve flight just long enough to seriously hurt yourself once you finally go down. But it’s the mental scars that would stay with you the longest. See, we tolerate talking animals like parrots because they’re small and harmless and can be taken down with some bird seed, a cardboard box, and a string tied to a stick. A talking elephant, though, would be terrifying because if elephants were smart enough to talk, they’d also be smart enough to be pissed off at humanity for, well, everything really. And unlike parrots, they could do something about it.

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The good news is that we aren’t headed towards a Planet of the Elephants just yet but modern research suggests that it’s just a matter of time. See, scientists studying a male Asian elephant named Koshik at the Everland Zoo in South Korea, discovered that the pachyderm learned to imitate certain human sounds. Koshik did it by putting his trunk in his mouth to change the shape of his vocal tract and produce sounds that sound eerily human. He could reportedly “say” Korean words like “annyong” (“hello”), “anja” (“sit down”), “aniya” (“no”), “nuo” (“lie down”), and “choah” (“good”) or the exact phrases he and his kind will one day need to order their human servants around. Coincidence? You wish.

In tests, native Korean speakers were able to more or less identify what Koshik was getting at from the recordings of his voice. He had some trouble with the consonants but apparently his vowels were perfect. Meaning that, without much effort, Koshik could be trained to say the phrase “doo-doo poo-poo” and we think that’s just beautiful. Nature is so beautiful. Anyway, we know that a vocabulary of 5 doesn’t exactly make Koshik a genius, but he can still imitate humans better than humans can imitate elephants. So don’t be paranoid but, at the very least, be suspicious of people with limited vocabularies. Maybe they’re your toddler, maybe they’re an elephant in disguise. It’s literally impossible to say.

So far there has been only a handful of reports of “talking” elephants around the world, but that’s how it starts. Get the smart ones to mate and it’s game over. And mating shouldn’t be a problem since, apparently, they can already say “hello,” “lie down,” and “good.” That’s literally all the vocabulary you need during sex. Humanity is doomed. We’d say we had a good run, but that’d be a lie.

Elephants Mourn and Care for Their Dead

Some animals behave weirdly, almost ritualistically, in the presence of their dead. For example, primates do it, in between murdering their young all the time, which makes them seem so goddamn human that we’re actually starting to hate them a little bit. Get lost, primates. Be less terrible, like elephants. Elephants are pure. They’re funny, goofy-looking, and oafish so to see them sad over the passing of their friends/family would be enough to break us. It’d be like watching Santa Claus cry or something. So you better go get some tissues ready because we’re all about to get totally sadfaced.

Elephants show a lot of interest in dead bodies. Thankfully, that plus their large size is where the similarities between them and John Wayne Gacy end. When in the presence of a dead elephant, a fellow pachyderm will slowly approach and examine the carcass to check if it’s not just someone sleeping off last night’s epic binge (elephants are actually huge lightweights.) Once death has been confirmed, the elephant might try to cover the body (yes, they actually do that), examine the ground, or socialize with close-by elephants to let them know that this whole area will be impossible to rent-out now. They do this even if they didn’t actually know the dead elephant. Now, all of this could possibly be explained by the elephants being wary about potential threats to them and trying to protect their own, but many of them take it a step further.

Some elephants have been observed returning to the same carcass over and over again, almost as if they were visiting a grave. They were even observed standing perfectly still on a few occasions, like a human taking a moment of silence. Also, they cry. Not from the eyes but elephants have something called “temporal glands” that begin to stream when the animals become “emotionally elevated” and that’s exactly what the elephant Noor did when her mother Victoria died in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. She just hanged around the body for weeks with fluid flowing from her face. Victoria’s son Malasso, on the other hand, was suspected of trying to repeatedly lift his dead mom over and over. It was basically like that scene where Simba tried to get the dead Mufasa to wake up, only real and starring Dumbo.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough to bring you down, there are also records of elephants putting food in the mouths of their dead buddies, as if trying to nurse them back to health. Scientists have additionally observed baby elephants trying to nurse from their dead moms’ bodies. Mother Nature, we say this with all due respect, but you're a monster.

Elephants Comfort Each Other When One of Them Is Distressed

Elephants go through a lot. When not being hunted by poachers, they have to live with the fact that their most famous representative in fiction is a colonial apologist. So, yeah, being an elephant ain’t easy and sometimes things get to these magnificent land-whales. Sometimes they need to be cheered up. That’s when another elephant comes up and puts their nose in their mouth.

Researchers observing elephants in Thailand noticed that when an elephant was in distress (like when another elephant was too aggressive towards it or when the first elephant got separated from the group) then others would try to initiate physical contact with it. Elephants touch each other all the time, but this happened way more often when one of them was having a really bad day, and in the majority of cases, the physical contact began with the bystander elephant. It could be anything as simple as gentle taps with the facial skin-clarinet or it could involve one elephant putting their trunk in the distressed party’s mouth. They may also touch their genitals. Because elephants are bros. They see a friend in distress, they offer them a crotch pat. We have so much to learn from them.

Elephants will also gather around the freaking out member of the herd and talk to them in Elephanese. When they’re standing closely together, they will often emit an almost chirping sound. This is the same sound they make when playing and being happy, so here it’s probably meant to calm one of them. Behold, a 2,000-pound behemoth, sounding like a puppy with its head stuck in a jar.

They could also thump their trunk, which is often a sign of aggression but in these cases may also be them trying to imitate the first elephant’s distress, showing them that they understand what they’re going through. You know how when you’re super angry at someone and you tell your bestie and they instantly get on your level and become so angry that you actually start worrying that they will go out there and literally murder the guy who cut you off earlier? Yeah, elephants apparently have a version of that.

Only theirs is better because when showing their friends that they’re as freaked out as them, elephants will occasionally also urinate and defecate. When was the last time your BFF evacuated their bowels in anger after you told them about how your boss made you work late again? That’s what we thought. If they won’t dump for you, then dump them and find yourself some real friends.

Elephants Communicate With Each Other Using Vibrations in the Ground

We have some bad news for you. If you ever were in the presence of two or more elephants, there’s a chance they insulted you right to your face, and you had no idea. That’s because elephants communicate in low-pitched vocalizations that are basically imperceptible to humans. So while you were, say, standing there in front of that elephant enclosure at the zoo, its occupants may have been roasting you brutally. And the news just keeps on getting worse because if elephants found you particularly goofy-looking, they might have told every elephant in a 2-mile radius that your new nickname is “micro-schnoz.” They can do that by sending and sensing vibrations through the ground.

Scientists came to that conclusion by observing a lot of peculiar elephant behaviors like freezing. There were times when a group of elephants would play around etc. before all of them suddenly froze in place like at the end of a ‘90s sitcom (which would of course be named Who Wears The Ele-Pants? but that’s beside the point). Now, the interesting thing about that was that while most elephants in the frozen group would keep their trunks perfectly still, one would have theirs flat on the ground. Later tests and experiments proved that this was a way for the elephant to detect messages sent as vibrations in the soil about all sorts of things, like predators that may target their young. But, mainly, they let each other know that it’s bone o’clock.

Iacomino FRiMAGES/Shutterstock

In fairness, it's kind of hard to do convey sexiness when you look like a leather-wrapped cargo van.

You see, elephant herds are matriarchal. They are ruled by females, and these fearsome ladies are so focused on their careers etc. that they only ovulate and start craving some trunk in the trunk about three times a year. Their period of heat also doesn’t have any real external signs and doesn’t last long, so as soon as it starts, females may send both vocal and infrasonic notifications that they are open for business. Not unlike your mom sending a mass “you up?” text at 11 pm to all of her contacts. And, both with your mom and elephants, once the message is out there, it’s just a matter of who gets there first.

Elephants can apparently also detect ground vibrations through their feet, some from insane distances. In one instance, elephants at the Etosha National Park in Namibia started moving north in search of water when it started raining in Angola over 100 miles way. It was theorized that they sensed the rumblings in the ground caused by thunder, which over generations they learned to associate with water coming in. This illustrates perfectly why it would suck to live next to an elephant. Imagine playing a song with a lot of bass one day and suddenly the doorbell rings and there’s an elephant outside your house. Best-case scenario: he wants a glass of water. Worst-case scenario: he wants to know if your mom is around.

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Top image: Stu Porter, Zeng Wei Jun/Shutterstock

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