Mother elephant and a baby swimming

Do Elephants Have A Good Memory?

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  • Post category:Elephants
  • Post last modified:25 August 2021
  • Reading time:6 mins read

An elephant never forgets. Have you ever heard of this term before? It is a pretty common saying, and many people across the world believe this to be true. But is it?

Elephants have an excellent memory thanks to the large brain, including a sizeable part of it, being the temporal lobe area. The large temporal lobe has helped the elephant develop exceptional memory recall.

We now know that elephants do have a good memory. Let’s find out why they have a good memory?

The Elephants Memory 

Among all the land mammals, elephants are known to have giant brains. The weight of the brain of an adult elephant is about 10.5 pounds. While it is impossible to judge how efficiently a brain works depending on its size, it can give us a clue to the powerful memory of the elephants.

One of the conventional ways the researchers used to estimate the elephants’ intelligence is by measuring encephalization quotients (EQ). The encephalization quotient compares the animal’s brain size against the projected brain size that scientists estimate depending on their body weight. 

To properly understand this measurement, you need to compare the seeds of an avocado and an apple. Even though both fruits are the same size, the apples have tiny seeds compared to the avocado. 

The simple logic that the scientists follow is that the smaller the encephalization quotient ratio is, the dumber the animal will be. 

For example, humans have an average encephalization quotient of 7, while pigs have an encephalization quotient of around 27.

On this scale, the score of the elephants is pretty high. The researchers have found out that female elephants tend to have more EQ compared to males. 

This is probably directly related to the matriarchal social structure of the elephants. Scientists have also found out that the elderly female members of the herd showcase the signs of better memory. They are the ones that remember dangerous situations and old feeding sites.

The memory of an elephant plays a significant role in their survival in the wilderness. This can also be one of the main reasons these animals can live for so long in the wilderness.

Elephants can even remember people and hold grudges against those who hurt them. 

Why do elephants have such remarkable memory?

It is most probably related to elephants having the largest absolute brain size among all the land mammals. Not only that, but the elephants also have the largest temporal lobe compared to their body size. Many cortical and pyramidal neurons help along with spindle cells within the brain. All of these factors have helped the elephants in developing exceptional memory.

Temporal Lobe 

The temporal lobe forms the brain’s portion that helps language, communication special, spatial memory, and cognition. 

Because elephants have such a large temporal lobe, there is a high possibility that elephants may be capable of performing far more complex cognitive tasks than we know.

Brain Neurons

The brain of elephants contains as many cortical neurons as the human brain. The size of the pyramidal neurons of the elephant brains is larger than that of humans. These simple things suggest that elephants may have superior memory and learning skills than even humans.

Brain Cells

The elephant brain contains spindle cells, which play a significant role in functions like making quicker decisions. Not many others have spindle cells apart from great apes, humans and dolphins. 

Older Matriarchs Have The Best Memory

Here’s why: the researchers believe that the exceptional recall power of the elephants plays a significant role in their survival in the wilderness. 

Matriarchs (female herd leaders) showcase the sign of exceptional memory. 

Good memory has helped these matriarchs create social knowledge. Without this, their family would not survive in the wild. 

Researchers from the University of Sussex monitored some herds of African elephants from the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. They discovered that a group of elephants with 60-year-old matriarchs would most likely take a defensive position quicker when confronted by a predator. 

However, the same behaviour response is not seen as quick in a group of elephants with a younger matriarch. 

The researchers think that the older matriarchs know quicker than the preditor will likely start conflict and even harm the baby elephants. 

The researchers believe that the older matriarchs have more experience handling such situations and remember exactly how to protect their babies.

That is why they instruct their herd mates to take the defensive position faster than the younger matriarchs.

Final Say

Elephants are no doubt one of the gentlest souls of the wilderness. However, we continue to make their lives difficult through various unthoughtful antics. To treat these gentle souls better, we need to spread awareness about their exciting personalities and intelligence. It is the only way to save these animals.

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Teresa Milne

Teresa is learning zoology and loves to share her knowledge through her articles. She has some pets that she adores two dogs, two cats, and one hamster. Teresa has also studied canine behaviour and canine nutrition.