Thursday, October 12, 2006
An Elephant "Speaks"......
I wanted to pass on this curious bit from the Oct. 6 issue of Science Magazine:
A couple of years ago, an elephant trainer at South Korea's zoo in Everland Resort outside Seoul thought he heard a human voice coming out of an elephant stall. The sounds turned out to be coming from one of his charges, Kosik.
Putting the end of his trunk into his mouth, the 15-year-old Indian elephant can say short words such as bal (foot), joa (good), and anja (sit). Elephants normally make sounds through their trunks, without using their mouths. Scientists believe that Kosik blows air out of his trunk, modifying its flow by aiming at different places in his mouth and thereby generating sounds through friction with molars, inner tusks, and tongue.
Zoo veterinarians and engineers from Soongsil University in Seoul have conducted tests with Kosik. The acoustical properties of the sounds he makes are similar to those of sounds made by his trainer, Jong Gap Kim. In effect, the scientists say, Kosik is acting like a parrot. Scientists plan to conduct further studies to find out how Kosik came to mimic his trainer. Veterinarian Yang Bum Kim says elephants, who are about as smart as human toddlers, are very group-oriented and tend to copy those closest to them, suggesting that Kosik has a strong bond with trainer Kim. Kosik's parroting is not the first case of elephant mimicry. Last year, Nature published a paper on an African elephant that made "rumbling" sounds like a truck.