Elephants and Ethnic Groups

I don’t know how I missed this, but Science Daily has an interesting summary of research appearing in Current Biology. The Current Biology article is subscription only so I haven’t read it. The research concerns the ability of elephants to distinguish between Maasai (who have been known to spear elephants) and Kamba (who don’t). According to Science Daily the research shows that:

“In fact, we think that this is the first time that it has been experimentally shown that any animal can categorize a single species of potential predator into subclasses based on such subtle cues [emphasis mine – afarensis],” added Lucy Bates, also at the University of St. Andrews.


How did they reach this conclusion:

In the current study, working with the long-running Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the researchers first presented elephants with clean, red clothing and with red clothing that had been worn for five days by either a Maasai or a Kamba man. In comparison to either a Kamba-worn or unworn garment, Maasai-scented clothing motivated elephants to travel significantly faster in the first minute after they began to move, the researchers found. The elephants also traveled farther from the cloth smelling of the Maasai in the first five minutes, and took significantly longer to relax after they stopped running away.
They then investigated whether elephants can also use garment color as a cue to classify humans in the absence of scent differences by comparing their reactions to red versus white cloth. The elephants reacted with more aggression toward red than white, they found, noting that to elephants, red is actually a drab color.

One of these days, elephants, killer whales, dolphins, octopi, and crows are going to form an alliance, take over the place, and relegate us humans to the role of gibbering swamp apes. When the revolution starts just remember, elephants are afraid of bees.

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