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Reflection and Self-Recognition in Elephants

184947867_c4108cda5f_m.jpgWho’s that elephant in the mirror? Maxine, Patty, and Happy seemed to know.

In experiments at the Bronx Zoo, three female Asian elephants (Maxine, Patty, and Happy) demonstrated mirror self-recognition (MSR), according to a study released in October by the National Academy of Sciences. (Full text of study available only to subscribers.) An elephant-sized mirror was placed in their enclosure, and researchers observed their interactions with it.

MSR was previously known to exist only in humans, apes, and dolphins, who all exhibit complex social behaviors. An animal that fails the MSR test reacts to its mirror image as if it’s another animal. But an animal possessing MSR will inspect the mirror as though it’s aware the image is of itself. Furthermore, Happy passed an additional “mark” test, in which she apparently recognized that a white mark had been drawn on her head based on her reflection in the mirror.

Photo by Janice Gelona (CC)


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