Watch: This Elephant Has Figured Out How to Peel Bananas
Like the other elephants at the Berlin Zoo, Pang Pha likes to eat bananas. Unlike the others though, she prefers her bananas to be peeled – and she’s figured out how to peel them herself.
Even more curious is that the middle aged elephant seems to know exactly when a banana is at its ripest, and she won’t bother to peel bananas that aren’t in prime tasty condition. Typically, she will eat green or yellow bananas whole, which may be harder for her to peel, and will reject brown bananas, which she may simply dislike.
Scientists have been observing Pang Pha’s behavior and just published a new study in Current Biology about her talent, and the incredible dexterity of elephants’ trunks. Pang Pha peels bananas by using the tip of her trunk to break them and then shake the fruit free from the peel, which she casts aside (though her daughter seems to like to eat the peels, the Times reported).
“Banana peeling is another example of how dexterous the elephant’s trunk is,” Joshua Plotnik, a comparative psychologist at Hunter College in New York City, said in an email to the New York Times about the findings. “It’s a wonderful ‘built in’ tool that the elephant uses for a variety of purposes.
The study’s authors wrote that this behavior is “rare in elephants,” and that none of the other elephants at the zoo do this. They think she may have learned the trick by watching her caretakers peel bananas for her.
“African elephants appear to be able to interpret human pointing gestures and to classify human ethnic groups, but complex human-derived manipulation behaviors like the banana peeling reported here appear to have only rarely been observed,” the paper states.
There is a catch, though—when Pang Pha is in competition with other elephants, she avoids peeling them and eats all but one whole, saving the best for last, to peel later.