It seems that researchers have run some experiments where they put a full-length mirror (which in this case is pretty darned big) in the elephant pen at the Bronx Zoo, and led three female Asian elephants up to it.
All of them seemed to recognize themselves, but one more than the other: After seeing her reflection, she reached the tip of her trunk up to her own face and touched a white mark the researchers had placed there... in a spot she could not have seen it otherwise. Until now, only humans, apes, and dolphins have demonstrated self-recognition.
The researchers propose that self-awareness is a necessary prerequisite for empathy and altruism, behaviors possibly seen in elephants.
The most startling idea in the new article for me was this:
If the findings can be replicated in other elephants, it would be a striking example of convergent evolution, Gallup1 says. "In evolutionary terms, primates and elephants separated an awfully long time ago," he says, but social intelligence evolved in both lineages.The complete report is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
See a movie of Happy looking at herself in the mirror (the camera is behind the mirror).
1. Gordon Gallup, Jr. is an evolutionary psychologist at the SUNY Albany, and previously published a paper on self-recognition in Chimpanzees.