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  1. #1
    Senior Member UniqueMixture's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
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    Default Elephant imitates human speech

    An elephant in a South Korean zoo is using his trunk to pick up not only food, but also human vocabulary.

    An international team of scientists confirmed Friday what the Everland Zoo has been saying for years: Their 5.5-ton tusker Koshik has an unusual and possibly unprecedented talent.

    The 22-year-old Asian elephant can reproduce five Korean words by tucking his trunk inside his mouth to modulate sound, the scientists said in a joint paper published online in Current Biology. They said he may have started imitating human speech because he was lonely.

    Koshik can reproduce "annyeong" (hello), "anja" (sit down), "aniya" (no), "nuwo" (lie down) and "joa" (good), the paper says.

    One of the researchers said there is no conclusive evidence that Koshik understands the sounds he makes, although the elephant does respond to words like "anja."

    Everland Zoo officials in the city of Yongin said Koshik also can imitate "ajik" (not yet), but the researchers haven't confirmed the accomplishment.

    Koshik is particularly good with vowels, with a rate of similarity of 67 percent, the researchers said. For consonants he scores only 21 percent.

    Researchers said the clearest scientific evidence that Koshik is deliberately imitating human speech is that the sound frequency of his words matches that of his trainers.

    Vocal imitation of other species has been found in mockingbirds, parrots and mynahs. But the paper says Koshik's case represents "a wholly novel method of vocal production" because he uses his trunk to reproduce human speech.

    In 1983, zoo officials in Kazakhstan reportedly claimed that a teenage elephant named Batyr could reproduce Russian to utter 20 phrases, including "Batyr is good." But there was no scientific study on the claim.

    Researchers believe Koshik learned to reproduce words out of a desire to bond with his trainers after he was separated from two other elephants at age 5.

    Koshik emerged as a star among animal enthusiasts and children in South Korea after Everland Zoo claimed in 2006 that he could imitate words, two years after his trainers noticed the phenomenon. His growing reputation prompted Austrian biologist Angela Stoeger-Horwath and German biophysicist Daniel Mietchen to study him in 2010, zoo officials said.

    Oh Suk-hun, a South Korean veterinarian who co-authored the research paper with Stoeger-Horwath and Mietchen, said the elephant apparently started imitating human speech to win the trust of his trainers.

    In April, a children's science book called "Joa Joa, Speaking Elephant" was published. The cover photo showed Koshik opening his mouth wide while raising a trunk over his trainer's head.

    Researchers said Koshik was trained to obey several commands and "exposed to human speech intensively" by trainers, veterinarians and zoo visitors.

    Shin Nam-sik, a veterinary professor at Seoul National University who has seen Koshik, agreed with researchers' finding that the elephant was able to mimic human speech.

    "In Koshik's case, the level of intimacy between him and his trainer was the key factor that made the elephant want to sound like a human," Shin said.

    Kim Jong-gab, Koshik's chief trainer, said the elephant was timid for a male when he first came to Everland Zoo, so trainers often slept in the same area with him. Kim thinks that contact helped Koshik feel closer to humans.

    Kim said he has another phrase he wants to teach Koshik: "Saranghae," or "I love you."

    What do you guys think of this? Just another cute animal story? Does it make you think differently about the cognitive capacity of elephants? Should other attempts at interspecies communications be made?
    For all that we have done, as a civilization, as individuals, the universe is not stable, and nor is any single thing within it. Stars consume themselves, the universe itself rushes apart, and we ourselves are composed of matter in constant flux. Colonies of cells in temporary alliance, replicating and decaying and housed within, an incandescent cloud of electrical impulses. This is reality, this is self knowledge, and the perception of it will, of course, make you dizzy.

  2. #2


    I find elephants majestic in nature. Breeding them for advanced sentience should be prioridad numero uno.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Nicodemus's Avatar
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    Aug 2010


    Not irrelephant.

  4. #4
    Anew Leaf


    Quote Originally Posted by Nicodemus View Post
    Not irrelephant.
    It's official: I love you.

  5. #5
    Let Go Of Your Team Zarathustra's Avatar
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    Oct 2009


    Quote Originally Posted by UniqueMixture View Post
    What do you guys think of this? Just another cute animal story? Does it make you think differently about the cognitive capacity of elephants? Should other attempts at interspecies communications be made?
    Saw this a few days ago.

    And it came on the back of another recent story about whales also imitating human speech.

    Call me a sucker, but I've seen a whole bunch of shit on the internet over the last couple years that really accentuates how much animals share similar experiences to us. I know that's not any monumental thought or anything; we are animals, and I've accepted this since I was a kid. But there's still something special about seeing them do stuff that we might otherwise think is restricted to "superior" beings like ourselves (and don't get me wrong, I think we are, in some ways, superior, and, even due to our superiority in those ways, might properly be considered superior on the whole, but, I guess my point is, each time you see things like this, it makes me feel that much less superior to them, and, at the same time, that much more connected to them, and the Earth as a whole). It's an interesting experience. I think we're gunna hear a lot more about stuff like this in the coming decades.
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  6. #6
    Its time. Cassandra's Avatar
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    Nov 2008


    ^Lets hope so.

  7. #7
    Senior Member
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    Oct 2012


    Ths made me lol. Though to me Korean may as well be elephant noises

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