• Elephants are very long-lived and exhibit a high degree of social complexity. Their social network is unusually large, radiating out from the natal family through bond groups, clans, and independent adult males and beyond to strangers. The close and enduring cooperative social relationships operating between in dividuals and families within this fluid multi-tiered society is rare in the animal kingdom.


  • Elephants have very large and complex brains. At an average of 4.8, kg the elephant brain is the largest among living and extinct terrestrial mammals. Elephants have the greatest volume of cerebral cortex available for cognitive processing of all land mammals. The neocortex, which in humans is the seat of enhanced cognitive function such as working memory, planning, spatial orientation, speech and language, is large and highly convoluted. 
  • Elephants have unusually good memory. They accumulate and retain social and ecological knowledge, remembering the scents and voices of scores of other individuals and places for decades.
  • Elephants are able to make subtle discriminations between predators, even between different groups of people, showing that they comprehend the different levels of threat each poses. 
  • The behavior of elephants both in the wild and in captivity suggests that elephants are able to use their long-term memories to "keep score" and to extract "revenge" for wrongs done.
  • Elephants can discriminate between the bones of elephants and those of other animals, and they respond to the bones of elephants with special contemplation showing high levels of interest in the skulls and ivory of their own species.
  • Their development includes social learning and behavioral innovation, which is manifested in the use Biology lettersand modification of rudimentary tools and in vocal learning.
  • Mirror self-recognition suggests that elephants are self-aware and numerous observations of empathetic and other behavior suggest that elephants have a rudimentary theory of mind.
  • Elephants are renowned for their memory, intelligence, and sociality, and, as with humans, these traits make them particularly vulnerable to stress and to trauma and its longer-term psychological consequences.
  • Elephants produce a wide range of vocalizations, many of which contain frequencies below the level of human hearing. Elephants use some of these powerful low frequency calls to communicate with other elephants over long-distances.
  • Elephants can also detect the vocalizations of their companions seismically. When an elephant vocalizes, an exact replica of this signal propagates separately in the ground. Elephants are able to discriminate between these vocalizations through their sensitive feet. They can detect earth tremors, thunderstorms and the hoof beats of distant animals in the same manner. 
  • African elephants refer to different threats with specific alarm calls. They know which human voices represents threats, and can warn each other. 

Link to article about Vocal Learning on BBC NEWS

  • Elephants have an extraordinary sense of smell, which is said to be more discriminating than that of a bloodhound.
  • While many other species may rival elephants in one capability or another, there are few that equal or surpass elephants in the totality of their social and behavioral complexity.
  • Elephants are a keystone species - meaning that they play a pivotal role in structuring both plant and animal communities, contributing to biodiversity through seed dispersal and the creation of habitat mosaics.
  • Elephants move over long distances pruning as they go. Their lack of a specialised digestive system means that seeds have an ideal environment for germination, making elephants perfect gardeners. Their dung is home to thousands of small invertebrates, who in turn are food for birds, reptiles and small mammals. Many important ecosystems would partly collapse if the elephants disappear.
  • The elephant is a flagship species - in other words, being such "charismatic mega-vertebrates" elephants play a vital role as a symbol for the need for conservation of wildlife and nature. 
  • Elephants are significant contributors to tourism revenue in many countries in Africa and Asia, they are a substantial part of our cultural and historical heritage and they give us pleasure to behold.

  • Elephants are valuable in their own right!

Watch National Geographic's Elephants 101, presenting some of the abilities of the world's largest land mammal.