Elephants can sum small numbers with almost 90 pc accuracy, says a researcher. Naoko Irie of the University of Tokyo in Japan has revealed that an Asian elephant named Ashya could recognise which of the two buckets was carrying more apples during an experiment. For the study, a trainer dropped three apples into one bucket and one apple into a second, then four more apples in the first and five more in the second. It was observed that the elephant recognised that three plus four was greater than one plus five, and snacked on the seven apples.
"I even get confused when I'm dropping the bait," New Scientist magazine quoted Irie as saying.
While presenting her findings last week at the International Society for Behavioral Ecology's annual meeting in Ithaca, New York, she said that elephants could also discriminate between small numbers.
Irie tested four elephants, and found that they could distinguish between five and six apples as well as they did between five and one.
She said that the elephants picked the bucket with the most fruit 74 per cent of the time on average.
"It really is tough to figure out why (elephants) would need to count," said Mya Thompson, an ecologist at Cornell University, who attended Irie's presentation.
She believes that counting may be helpful for Asian elephants, which live in close-knit groups of six to eight, in ensuring that the entire herd stays together.
"You really don't want to lose your group members," she says.
Alternatively, says Irie, the mathematical prowess of elephants might be a side effect of their bulging brains, and an evolutionary kinship to other 'smart' animals.