Elephant Scores 87 Percent on Math Exam at Zoo

By | September 4, 2008

The elephant’s memory is legendary, but in a large, grey surprise to science the mighty Asian elephant turns out to have a distinct flair for maths as well

Under carefully controlled experimental conditions — essentially comprising a large cage and two buckets of assorted fruit — one elephant at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo managed to get its sums right 87 per cent of the time. A slightly less gifted pachyderm across the country in Kyoto scored a still respectable 69 per cent.

The curiously accurate adding skills of Elephas maximus have been discovered by Naoko Irie, a behavioural ecologist at the University of Tokyo putting the finishing touches to her doctoral thesis …“I couldn’t believe it at first,” said Irie, “They could instantly compare numbers like six and five.”

The elephants she subjected to the fruit-based arithmetic tests were as good at telling the difference between five and six as they were at spotting that five is greater than one, she said.

Speculation among scientists over why the elephant should have developed its limited but nonetheless impressive mathematical ability centres on the way in which the lumbering creatures move in herds. A basic counting ability, say experts, might act as a guarantee that no calf is left behind. – timesonline

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