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Zoo Experiment Sheds New Light on Animal Intelligence

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Daily exercises keep elephants’ limbs loose and their minds sharp.
Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Daily exercises keep elephants’ limbs loose and their minds sharp.

The National Zoo's Don Moore says people often have the wrong idea about elephants. They’re a lot smarter than we think.

"People were thinking, I think, that elephants are clumsy," Moore says. "And because they're clumsy and big, they're kind of stupid. It's kind of the arch-typical dumb jock."

But Moore says elephants are actually very smart. In fact, in a new study, one of the zoo's Asian elephants used problem solving skills and tools to reach food suspended high in the air. Only dolphins and chimpanzees have demonstrated equivalent levels of insight.

"They're big, really agile, really smart creatures and we need to respect that and conserve them," he says.

Only about 30,000 Asian elephants are still living in the wild.


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