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Author Topic: Do elephants never forget?  (Read 3264 times)

Offline Karsten

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Do elephants never forget?
« on: 29/09/2009 00:07:26 »
Someone threw this at me today. They may have said "Elephants remember things for 50 years". Anyhow, I can accept and appreciate that they have good memories (if there is evidence), and I don't want to discuss the word "never", but is there evidence that elephants have a spectacular memory?


 

Offline JnA

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Do elephants never forget?
« Reply #1 on: 29/09/2009 00:56:13 »
They seem to be able to learn quite effectively.. and I guess learning means creating memories.

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/content/news/news/1510/

I find it hard to believe that there is a time frame for their memories. I don't know how one could measure that.

 

Offline Don_1

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Do elephants never forget?
« Reply #2 on: 29/09/2009 08:47:47 »
I'm sure most animals have good memories. A lion cub playing with a snake will soon discover that this is not a good idea and will remember that fact. I have never heard of a full grown lion being killed by a snake. Perhaps this is because they remember how dangerous they are and avoid any confrontation.

Learning and remembering what you have learned are essential, if you are to survive. Why should an elephant have a longer memory than a lion? Because it will probably outlive a lion by as many as 50 years.
 

Offline BenV

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Do elephants never forget?
« Reply #3 on: 29/09/2009 10:21:16 »
I think they're known to recognise other elephants after many years apart (the males move away from the troup on maturity, so will sometimes encounter their own family many years later) - I can't find an actual reference that gives a timeline though.

This may indicate that they have an incredible memory for individual elephants (it's essential in their complex social structure to recognise old friends) - this doesn't mean they have a great memory for anything else.
 

Offline LeeE

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Do elephants never forget?
« Reply #4 on: 29/09/2009 17:50:01 »
I believe that there's plenty of anecdotal evidence from India, where many elephants have been effectively domesticated, that elephants can display long memories in connection with specific humans.

Given the size of their brains, and unless their brains are highly specialised (I've no idea about elephant brain physiology), I'd be a bit surprised if their memory capability wasn't at least as good as ours.  Where I'd expect most difference is in what those memories actually mean to the elephant.  With human beings, memory isn't just a case of remembering things but also putting them in some sort of context, so that the memory has a meaning, and by and large, a unique meaning at that.  It's possible that elephants may not be able to do this to the same degree though, so while they might be able to remember many different unique events, each memory may not have it's own unique context and meaning.  Indeed, many elephant memories may not have any meaning at all.

Just guessing and extrapolating here, of course: I'm not an elephant scientist.

What I think must be clear though, is that if an organism has a large brain size then it's likely that a good proportion of it is utilised.  In evolutionary terms, having a large brain size must convey some degree of advantage over a smaller brain size, so if elephants didn't utilise their large brains those brains would most probably have become smaller as they would need less food to power them.
 

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Do elephants never forget?
« Reply #4 on: 29/09/2009 17:50:01 »

 

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