Elephant's self-taught banana peeling skill sheds light on the species' remarkable cognitive abilities

Who knew they were this smart?
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Higashi Park Elephant
Higashi Park Elephant


Nobody saw this coming. In a surprising display of intelligence, a female elephant named Pang Pha at the Berlin Zoo was observed peeling bananas before eating them, suggesting the animal's capacity for learning and innovation. This behavior is not typical for elephants in the wild or captivity.

Her caretakers raised Pang Pha, and they always peeled the banana before feeding her. Learning from this, she started to emulate the activity and peel the bananas herself. The caretakers in the zoo reached out to researchers at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

When they arrived, the researchers tested Pang Pha by offering her various bananas. When fed yellow or green bananas, she ate them whole, as is typical for elephants. It was only when she was presented with yellow bananas with brown spots that she began peeling them. Using her trunk, Pang Pha broke the banana, shook out the pulp, and discarded the peel.

Elephant's self-taught banana peeling skill sheds light on the species' remarkable cognitive abilities
African elephant

To further test this theory, it was noticed that Pang Pha only displayed this ability in private. When she was fed alongside other elephants, she ate the bananas whole. But she saved one for later and ate it using her peel method.

Elephants are known for their advanced social skills, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving abilities, and discoveries like these continue to shed light on their remarkable capabilities. Michael Brecht, a researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin, described Pang Pha's banana peeling as a "unique behavior" in a statement released by Cell Press. 

He explained that what sets Pang Pha's behavior apart is a combination of factors, including skillfulness, speed, individuality, and the fact that it may have originated from humans rather than a single behavioral element.

The Implication of this Behavior

This behavior has significant implications for our understanding of elephant cognition. It demonstrates their potential for learning, problem-solving, and innovation. Pang Pha's self-taught banana peeling has generated excitement among animal behavior experts, who are eager to learn more about the cognitive abilities of these intelligent creatures.

The observation also highlights their ability to adapt in response to their environment. Pang Pha's self-taught banana peeling may seem like a small feat. Still, it significantly impacts our understanding of elephant behavior and intelligence. It is a reminder that these majestic creatures are not just animals but complex beings with a rich inner life and remarkable abilities.

This finding may lead to the developing of new techniques and strategies for enhancing the well-being of elephants and other animals and promoting a greater understanding of their natural behaviors in the wild.

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