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Do elephants have eidetic memory?

Animals have always impressed us with their extraordinary and unique skills. A cheetah can run at 60 miles per hour, a koala can sleep 18 hours in a day, a chameleon can change its colors like we change clothes, and a dolphin is the most intelligent mammal on the planet after humans. While these may interest you, there is one animal whose memory power is said to be the same as humans, and it can remember things for a long time. Yes, we are talking about the elephants – the largest land mammal on earth. Elephants are interesting creatures. They are not only intelligent but also show a wide range of emotional and behavioral patterns in their up to 70-year lifespan. Their level of intelligence and mental ability can be deduced by the fact that elephants grieve over the death of their herd members. Biologists have found that elephants can also recognize their reflection in the mirror. But how true is the old saying – “Elephants Never Forget”? 

Although it may be a little exaggerated, there is more sincerity to this saying than you might realize. With that said, in this post, we are going to put light on the topic ‘do elephants have an eidetic or photographic memory?’

Let’s jump right into it. 

How Smart are Elephants?

Elephants are the gentle giants of the animal kingdom. They are nice and kind and love to interact with humans as well. In the wild, they carefully take care of each member of their herd. It is also found that elephants are protective of their human companions. But are they smart? Yes, it is undeniable that these giants have outstanding mind skills. In the wilderness, an elephant can remember where all members of his/her hers are, irrespective of the distance separating them. Elephants don’t prefer looking for new water bodies all the time; they just remember the last one from where they drank water. It is not just a survival instinct as they keep this information in long-term memory. The best part is that, like us, elephants can reach amazing goals and results because of the mental map they create in their mind. So, to your question, elephants really are smart and intelligent animals. 

What does Research say? 

Science has proven that elephants have an excellent memory. A group of researchers from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland in 2007 placed some urine samples in front of female elephants. The elephants at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya ‘acted up’ when one of the samples they smelled didn’t come from an elephant in their herd. It was concluded that elephants could remember and easily track as many as 30 herd members. 

For humans, it is really a pain when we go to a crowded area and are always on the lookout for our family members with the fear of losing them in the crowd. This is not the case with elephants as they can easily track their herd members and companions with ease. 

Now, it is not that elephants only remember things that they have spent long stretches of time with or took a bite of. Even a small meeting with an elephant and it might remember you for the rest of its life. 

A study showed that a pair of elephants in a zoo recognized other friendly elephants even when they had a small interaction with each other. 

At the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, US, they found that their elephant whose name was Jenny started acting joyous when a new elephant called Shirley arrived at the sanctuary. When the officials looked into both the elephants’ backgrounds, they were shocked to find that both had performed with the same circus 22 years ago for only a few months. Even humans can’t remember something that had happened a few months ago. This is just an incredible gift that elephants have. 

Researchers say that their superb memory helps them stay alive in the wild, and it just goes way beyond recognizing threats. 

The elephants use their 10.5-pound brains to conceal survival and identification details, imprinting the key information to their memory to be used and recalled later. 

Do Elephants Grieve? 

Elephants are capable of distress, compassion, grief, fury, jealousy, love, joy, and sadness. This has something to do with their memory. Unlike other animals that don’t hesitate to leave the young or weak behind to die, elephants are easily distressed by such situations. And because their memory is sharp, they tend to show signs of distress and grieving for extended periods of time. Similar to humans, they form unique bonds with each member of their herd. When anyone from the herd dies, the rest of the herd mourns its death and will never leave the side of the dead companion for hours.

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