We know that elephants are one of the smartest animals. They are one of the few animals that can recognize themselves in a mirror along with great apes, dolphins and magpies. But scientists wanted to know if they recognize their own body in relationship to their environment, known as “body awareness.” Human children cannot do this until they are two years old. To test this, scientists attached a stick to a mat and then had the elephants stand on the mat while asking them to hand the tester the stick. In 42 out of 48 tests, elephants stepped off the mat so that they could pick up the stick to give to the tester. This shows that elephants are aware of their body in relation to their environment.
Why is this important? Animals that show self-recognition demonstrate cooperative problem-solving, perspective taking and empathy. This leads to cooperation in a social environment. Understanding this in animals may help us understand them better and learn how individual animals determine how to help others.
Although many animals have not been tested or have not passed this type of test, it does not mean that they are not capable of self-recognition or body awareness. Many times, the right test has not been developed for that species of animal. Think of the many accounts of animals preforming unusual feats of heroism, helping other animals or humans in life-threatening situations when they have never been trained to do so. It is something to think about and is exciting to think of how much more we have to learn about animals.