BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Wanna socialize………with an Elephant?

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.”

 

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9 Comments

  1. biorob

    Great post Rawgdawg! I do, however, agree with ilikebioha. While animals can imitate human words, they may not have an understanding of what they are saying. Just like a whale or bird call, animals have their own language. While I may be able to pronounce a word in a different language, I have no idea what I am saying! I believe that this is similar with animals. Phonetically, I am sure they are able to repeat certain words well. But, I do not believe that they understand what they are saying. The link below gives a good explanation of this idea.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_animal)

  2. sciencegirl025

    Good article Rawdawggg. Not only can elephants “talk” but they also express emotion. You can read more about emotions an elephant express at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/unforgettable/emotions.html. Its a great read, explaining how elephants do have a means of communication and self expression besides “talking”, which is not so common amongst these great creatures.

  3. henroids

    Elephants aren’t the only species able to communicate with and understand humans. Koko the gorilla has be trained to sign over 1,000 characters and understand over 2,000 English words! The ongoing project with Koko is the “longest continuous inter-species communications project of its kind in the world.” and it is being used to help us understand evolution and the connection between gorillas and homo sapiens. You can learn more about Koko at:
    http://www.koko.org/world/

  4. evolucious

    Chimpanzees are another species that seem to have impressive language skills. In fact, our early primate ancestors communicated with their limbs, suggesting that humans used sign language before developing an oral language. Read about it here:
    http://www.livescience.com/4427-apes-point-origins-human-language.html

  5. dwil

    While humans are usually thought to be the only species capable of creating bonds with others, this is a misconception. Many other animals are known to communicate in several different ways in order to express what they are feeling. Koshisks is somehow able to use her trunk to create identifiable words which goes far and beyond simple communication and she can actually pronounce a few words in context. Cool article and post.

    Here is another post on the subject:
    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/11/south-korean-talking-elephant/

  6. bg95

    How do scientists know that the elephant has no understanding of the meaning of these words? The words that Koshik can “say” seem to be words that he likely heard over and over again. “lie down”, “sit down”, “no” and “good” are probably terms trainers used in an effort to train Koshik. Doesn’t this mean that the elephant connects meaning to the terms? If dogs can understand human gestures from being around humans all the time, can’t an elephant surrounded solely by humans understand the meaning of sounds?
    http://news.discovery.com/animals/dogs-humans-120208.html

  7. ilikebioha

    I am not trying to denounce Koshiks skill, but just because he can mimic the sounds, doesn’t mean he knows what he is saying. The same goes for parrots as well. Considering that humans are more equipped then other animals with our abilities to do extensive studies, i think that we should try to understand their language. Like what is the difference in the meanings between different pitched barks of a dog.

    http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/understanding-why-parrots-talk.html
    http://www.discoverymagazine.com/digger/d02dd/d0204dd.html

  8. inewitt

    Really interesting article rawgdog. Elephants aren’t the only animals who have begun to imitate human sounds, as scientists discovered a whale in captivity was also creating human like sounds. The whale also utilized his nasal passages to create the noise, instead of it’s actual throat. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121022-whales-voices-science-animals-humans-marine-mammals/

  9. jk1234

    Elephants using their trunks to make different sounds is incredible. Elephants also use their for many other purposes such as lifting and drinking, and elephants from different areas have differently structured trunks. Read more at:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_trunks

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