How intelligent are elephants? © Getty Images

How intelligent are elephants?

It common lore that 'elephants never forget', and it's true that elephants are remarkable animals, but just how smart are they?

Asked by: Len Irvine, London


Elephants are remarkable. They live in tight-knit groups, and will help injured animals or bring them food and water. They show grief when a family member dies and sometimes bury their dead or cover them with leaves. They also have long memories and complex mental maps, solve problems such as piling up blocks to reach food, and use branches and rocks as tools.

Remarkably, they can also understand what pointing means. Although pointing seems obvious to us and many dogs understand it, most other species, including chimpanzees, cannot.

Even more extraordinary is that they can imitate the sounds of other elephants and even some human words. They can also recognise themselves in a mirror, suggesting a level of self-awareness that is otherwise found only in the great apes, crows and bottlenose dolphins.

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