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Berlin. The elephant learned to peel bananas

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An elephant from the Berlin Zoo named Pang Pha has learned to eat bananas in an unusual way for animals. It does not eat the fruit whole, like other elephants, but peels it first.

Pang Pha was very young when she came to Berlin Zoo in 1987. Like the rest of the elephants, she was fed bananas. These animals eat bananas whole – they first grab the fruit with their proboscis, and then put them in their mouths.

“But Pang Pha was the caregiver’s ‘little princess’,” said Michael Brecht, professor of neurobiology at the Humboldt University of Berlin and author of the study published in the journal Current Biology. One of Pang Pha’s guardians began peeling bananas for her. Years later, the elephant learned to do it on its own.

Brecht and his team are studying how elephants are able to control their trunks. – When they told us that [sÅ‚onica – red.] can peel bananas, we were excited,” said Brecht. But then, in what he describes as a “fun twist,” the researchers had trouble getting the animal to replicate its trick.

“For weeks we brought the prettiest bananas we could find in Berlin to the zoo and she ate them whole,” Brecht said. Researchers realized that the elephant only peels the brown ones. Yellow or green went straight to the mouth. The scientist also noted that if the banana was too brown, the elephant would throw it away and would not eat it at all.

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How does an elephant peel bananas?

As the guardians said, when Pang Pha peels a banana, he does not break the stem and peel the sides one by one. He mainly uses his proboscis to burst the skin and then throws the fruit to the ground to release it.

“When Pang Pha eats with other elephants and everyone is fed, he sometimes eats whole bananas, even the slightly brown ones, which he prefers to peel alone,” Brecht said.

Pang Pha elephantLena Kaufmann

Why this behavior?

Why the elephant peels bananas, and only the brownish ones, remains unanswered. According to the researchers, this may be related to the taste or the ease of peeling these fruits at different stages of maturity. It cannot be unequivocally stated that she learned to peel bananas by imitating her human guardian.

“It’s possible she learned it on her own, but it’s also possible that the female elephant, who I presume ate a lot of bananas, figured out how to do it on her own and liked the taste of a peeled banana more than an unpeeled one,” said Joshua Plotnik, assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College in New York, which studies the cognitive functions of elephants.

A plotter, who was not involved in the study, said he witnessed elephants peeling bananas, and that the behavior demonstrated both the dexterity of their trunks and the flexibility of their foraging behavior.

“I am particularly interested in how well adapted elephants are to their environments, especially given that they now live in human-dominated landscapes where changes are often unpredictable,” said Plotnik.

The elephant is peeling a bananaLena Kaufmann

Main photo source: Lena Kaufmann



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