Just as humans have their own individual personalities, New research in the Journal of Comparative Psychology shows that elephants also have personalities.
What’s more, An elephant’s personality can play a role in how well that elephant can solve new problems.
The paper’s authors, from the University of Wyoming Animal Cognition and Behavior Laboratory, tested 15 Asian elephants and three African savanna elephants at three U.S. zoos: the San Diego Zoo, the Smithsonian National Zoo, and the zoo. from Oklahoma City, with the help of elephant keepers.
Previous works by the same researchers showed that Asian elephants can use water as a tool to solve a novel problem, and reach a tasty bounty of marshmallow, in what is called the floating object task. This time, the authors devised novel new tasks, as well as personality tests, for the elephants.
“We take a holistic approach by using three different troubleshooting tasks and three types of personality assessments to determine whether individual personality played a role in which elephants could solve these tasks ”, says co-author Lisa Barrett in a statement. “Since we couldn’t give the elephants a personality test like the ones you know online, we had to think creatively.”
The authors developed novel object tests, in which They presented the elephants with an unfamiliar object, a party balloon, a burned log, and the scent of a predator (lion or hyena), and recorded the elephants’ responses. You can watch videos of novelty object tests: balloon, burnt log, and urine. They also asked elephant keepers to complete a survey on the personalities of the animals in their care; and finally, observed elephants interacting with each other in their zoo habitats.
From these evaluations, Barrett and his colleague Sarah Benson-Amram found that surveys and observations were the most reliable methods for learning the elephant’s personality. In general, Barrett and Benson-Amram measured traits such as active, affectionate, aggressive, defiant, excitable, mischievous, shy and sociable, which have also been studied in other animals.
“We were eager to see if the personality traits we discovered through surveys and observations predicted success in new problem-solving tasks,” says Benson-Amram. “The elephants had the opportunity to solve each task three times, and we measured whether they learned to solve faster over time, and then we tracked their success down to their personality type. “
The three problem-solving tasks included the trap tube task, which is a common test used with primates but has never before been presented outside of primates. You can watch videos of the troubleshooting tests: Ball in Box, Ball Cane and Trap Tube
Barrett and Benson-Amram found that the elephants learned to solve two of the three tasks faster over time, even though the elephants only received three tests on each task. Traits including aggressiveness and activity were important predictors of overall problem solving, but measured personality traits did not significantly predict learning ability.
This study establishes connections between two sources of individual variation, personality and cognition, in threatened species. One of the reasons why it is important to examine problem solving in elephants is that they are faced with new problems that they must solve regularly in the wild.
For example, if certain traits allow elephants to overcome new problems, elephants are more likely to invade farmland and contribute to human-elephant conflict. With more research, managers can predict which elephants might overcome or habituate to deterrents, and managers can devote more resources to tracking elephants.