I always admired Elephants for their beauty, strength and wisdom. They are widely known their memory, but is it true that elephants never forget?
A study was conducted to examine the hippocampus of the African elephant and compare its size and “neuroanatomical description” to the hippocampus of other mammals and even humans. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is the center of emotion, memory, and the nervous system. To do this they took three wild male elephants between the ages of 20 and 30 and put them through an MRI. Results showed that the absolute size of the hippocampuses are relatively the same, but the volume of the elephant’s hippocampus is slightly larger than that of a human’s. However, the “individual neronal elements of the elephant’s hippocampus may be more complexly organized than other mammals, in terms of dendritic field size, branching complexity and spine numbers” (Patzke, Olaleye,Haagensen, Hof, Ihunwo, Manager, 1). It makes sense that elephants are known for their memory since, human’s also have long term memory and their hippo campuses are very similar. But, when compared to other mammals, they are idolized for their ability to remember.
An observational study, published in 2008, observed the survival rate of calves in a drought with older mothers and younger mothers. The results showed a correlations between the mother’s age and number of calf causalities; younger mother’s had a lower calf survival rate than older mothers. The reason for this could be that the older mothers remember what they did in the last droughts and where to find the resources. This supports that elephants have good memories.
Some anecdotal evidence that supports that elephants never forget is that they can grieve for years. According to and article on PBS, ” When an elephant walks past a place that a loved one died he or she will stop and take a silent pause that can last several minutes. While standing over the remains, the elephant may touch the bones of the dead elephant (not the bones of any other species), smelling them, turning them over and caressing the bones with their trunk” (PBS 1). It is possible that they could be reliving memories in their mind with the deceased.
The take away: There is no way to scientifically prove that memories last forever, whether it is an elephant or a human. However, these studies strongly support the notion that elephants have the ability to remember events that occurred decades go. This also explains why they feel grieve and stress so deeply. Check out this really cute video of two elephants being reunited after 20 years!