A Berlin elephant that peels bananas
A team from Humboldt University and the Zoo Berlin report on the banana-peeling elephant Pang Pha at Zoo Berlin in the new issue of the journal Current Biology.
Phot: Lena Kaufmann
Bernstein Members involved: Michael Brecht
Elephants are known for their dexterous and muscular trunks, but we know quite little about learned trunk behaviors. In the new issue of the journal Current Biology, Lena Kaufmann, Rolf Becker, Andreas Ochs, and Michael Brecht from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Zoo Berlin report on the banana peeling behavior of Pang Pha, an elephant from the Zoo Berlin.
Like other elephants, Pha eats green and yellow bananas whole, unpeeled, and rejects brown bananas. Unlike other elephants, however, Pha peels yellow-brown bananas when she is alone. Pha peels three times as fast as humans, first breaking off the banana by the trunk and then shaking out the flesh. When yellow-brown bananas are fed to Pha together with other elephants, she changes her behavior and eats all but the last banana whole, which she picks up and peels later.
Peeling bananas seems to be rare in elephants and none of the other Berlin elephants peel bananas. Pha has been bottle-fed by the keepers at the Berlin Zoo. The keepers inside regularly gave her peeled bananas, which they peeled in front of her and presumably this is how she learned to peel bananas from humans. “Pang Pha’s banana peeling is a unique behavior” says Prof. Dr. Michael Brecht of the Humboldt University, “it’s rare that animals adopt a complex behavior from another species.”
Translated from German by Alexander Lammers/Bernstein Network Computational Neuroscience.