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In a series of tests, the giant mammals learned to cooperate to solve a problem, researchers report in Monday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The tests, conducted in Thailand, involved food rewards placed on a platform on the ground connected to a rope. The elephants were behind a fence. To get the food, the elephants had to pull the two ends of the rope at the same time to drag the platform under the fence. Pull only one end and all you get is rope.
However, one young elephant had what the researchers termed an "unconventional" solution to the problem. As Plotnik and co-authors explained, the elephant firmly put one foot on the end of her rope, "forcing her partner to do all the work to retrieve the table."
"We're learning about the amazing mind of the elephant," he said. It was long thought that learning and cooperation were limited to primates, and "it's interesting to see that these other species are on the ball," Stone said.