2006_10_elephantpump.JPGWho doesn't love studies involving elephants and mirrors? A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the Bronx Zoo elephants recognized themselves in a mirror - which suggests they are self aware. The study was conducted by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Emory University. The NY Times explained the study and results:

They put an eight-foot-square mirror on a wall of the animals’ play area (out of view of zoo visitors) and recorded what happened with video cameras, including one embedded in the mirror.

The elephants exhibited behavior typical of other self-aware animals. They checked out the mirror, in some cases using their trunks to explore what was behind it, and used it to examine parts of their bodies.

Of the three, Happy then passed the critical test, in which a visible mark was painted on one side of her face. She could only tell the mark was there by looking in the mirror, and she used the mirror to touch the mark with her trunk.

Dr. [Diana] Reiss said it was not unusual that only one of the three elephants passed this test; with other self-aware species, large numbers of individuals don’t pass the test either.

The NY Times also has two videos of the elephants in action - the one of Happy touching the mark is amazing. We hope that the researchers the left the mirror there - it seems like the elephants enjoyed it. And other self-aware animals are humans, chimps and dolphins.

The Bronx Zoo elephant exhibit will close when one or two of the three elephants die, because the pachyderms are social. And the elephants like to step on pumpkins, much like humans.

Photograph from the Wildlife Conservation Society