The Lonely Elephant Solitarios Elephantus
An elephant in a South Korean zoo can now officially add Korean to his list of talents. It has been officially confirmed by an international team of scientists that the 22-year old elephant, Koshik, can reproduce five words modulating sound through the process of tucking his trunk into his mouth. According to the paper published online in Current Biology, he can reproduce “anja” (sit down), “aniya” (no), “nuwo” (lie down), “annyeong” (hello) and “joa” (good). There is no official evidence that states that the Asian elephant understands the sounds that he is making, but he does respond to certain words such as “anja” and “nuwo”. The act of vocal imitation among other species has been discovered in parrots, mynahs, and mockingbirds. The question is why animals do this in the first place. In the case of Koshik, scientists believe that the imitation of human speech may have started because he was lonely. Apparently, at the age of 5, he was separated from two other elephants and that is when he began to desire a bond with his trainers. Shin Nam-sik, a veterinary professor at Seoul National University said, “In Koshik’s case, the level of intimacy between him and his trainer was the key factor that made the elephant want to sound like a human.” Through his isolation from his species, it seems as though this elephant is desperately trying to communicate to the only contact he has, which is the species that put him there, humans. While they might see it as a scientific marvel, it is important to note the measures that led to this and why it may have occurred in the first place.