Archive | September, 2011

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Cooperative Tusk…uh…Task

Posted on 15 September 2011 by Jerry

Asian elephants are one of four mammals (humans, great apes–other than gorillas, bottlenose dolphins) to demonstrate self recognition in “mirror and mark” tests.  In a classical 1930’s test of cooperative capabilities originally designed for chimpanzees, a report published in the April 28, 2011 issue of Nature, vol. 472, indicates Asian elephants are able to learn to work with a partner to perform a shared task.   “A single rope was threaded through a platform baited with food.  Pulling one end with its trunk resulted in the elephant getting the rope but not the platform.  It took two elephants pulling together to succeed.” When the two animals were not released together, one animal had to wait for their partner.  If the test partner had no access to the rope, the test subject learned not to pull at all.  While the experiments were not as informative as those originally performed with chimpanzees, they did indicate the elephants were similar to chimpanzees and humans in that they may understand the role of the partner in a cooperative task.

The study of the Asian elephants was conducted by Joshua M. Plotnik, Richard Lair, Wirot Suphachoksahakun, and Frans B. M. de Waal.

April 28, 2011  —  San Francisco

Background:  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 6: Human Uniqueness identifies many shared characteristics between animals and Homo sapiens.  This article documents yet another shared characteristic that was produced by convergent evolution.

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