An elephant learns to peel bananas by imitating her keepers

The elephant Pang Pha was born at the Berlin Zoo and was hand-reared by her keepers who gave her bananas. She is now an adult, she is the only one who knows how to peel them, possibly because she has observed humans, but she only does it if she is alone and she also rejects the very mature ones.

The case of this Asian elephant is collected in a letter published by Current Biology. The team recounts how the animal grabs the plantain with its trunk, shakes it to break the shell, and throws it to the ground until it only gets the meat.

This is one of Pang Pha’s atypical behaviors, as he only peels the bananas if it is alone and if the fruit is at a certain point of ripeness. If there are other elephants nearby, she eats them whole, like her companions, but reserves one in her trunk to peel later.

The group of German researchers who studied the elephant believe that “most likely” it learned to peel bananas by observing how their keepers did it.

“We have discovered a very unique behavior” in that it is a combination of factors (skill, speed, individuality, and possible inspiration in humans) rather than a single behavioral element,” said Michael Brecht, of the University’s Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience. Humboldt from Berlin. Like other elephants, Pha eats whole green or yellow bananas, but also rejects the brown ones as overripe and only bothers to peel the yellow ones with brown spots.

When those kinds of bananas are offered to the group of elephants at the zoo, Pha changes her behavior. She eats as many as she can whole and saves the last to peel later.

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The ability to peel bananas is, the authors believe, rare in elephants and no one else does it at the Berlin zoo.

Although it is not clear why it does this, the researchers suggest that it may have acquired the ability through observational learning from humans.

However, that ability would not be easily transmitted by learning as Pang Pha’s daughter, Anchali, does not act like her mother.

Previous research has indicated that African elephants can interpret human gestures and classify people into ethnic groups, but complex human-derived manipulative behaviors, such as peeling bananas, “seem quite unique.” Pha’s behavior suggests that, in general, elephants “have amazing cognitive abilities and impressive manipulative ability,” according to the team.

Elephants have truly remarkable trunk dexterity, and their behavior is determined by experience, Brecht added. EFE

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