Us humans aren’t the only creatures of “socializing.” There is a young elephant at the Everland zoo in South Korea that can speak Korean!
USA today published a recent article about a young elephant that can imitate human words like a parrot. The Asian elephant can speak five Korean words: “annyong” (“hello”), “anja” (“sit down”), “aniya” (“no”), “nuo” (“lie down”) and “choah” (“good”). According to Koshik’s trainers, he learned to imitate human words in 2004.
Angel Stoeger, leader of this study, says that “Koshik is capable of matching both pitch and timber patterns.” So in actuality, the elephant is just imitating the noises, not really “speaking” words. But who cares? That is still awesome!
In the study, Stoeger and her colleagues had 16 native Korean speakers listen to 47 recordings of the elephant’s “mimics” without informing them of who Koshik was and his abilities. The speakers confirmed the mimics as proper language – this “largely confirmed” the claims of his trainers, says the study.
Koshik was born in captivity in 1990 and moved to Everland in 1993, living with two female Asian elephants until he was 5 years old. Koshik was the only elephant in Everland from 1995 to 2002. He was trained to obey commands in Korean. People were his only social contacts in those years, and the researchers suspect this led to his remarkable imitative powers.
So how does Koshik do it? As you can see in the video, he sticks his trunk in his mouth ,thus allowing him to create different sounds and tones. According to researcher Liz Rowland of Cornell, “[it] is a first for elephants using their trunk[s] to modify the sound.”
The researchers believe the reason for animals such as Koshik to exercise imitative vocalization “might be to cement social bonds and, in unusual cases, social bonds across species.”