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Mat test shows elephants are ‘body aware’
Asian elephants are able to recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in problem-solving.

Study could inform human/elephant mitigation strategies

Asian elephants are able to recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in problem-solving, according to new research.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, claims this ‘body awareness’ adds to increasing evidence of their intelligence.

“The more we can understand about elephants’ behaviour, the more we can understand what their needs are, how they think, and the strains they face in their social relationships,” explains study author Dr Josh Plotnik, a visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“This will help us if we are going to try to come up with viable long-term solutions to the problems that these animals face in the wild, especially those that bring them into regular conflict with humans.”

In the study, researchers devised a new self-awareness test adapted from one used on children. In the children’s version, youngsters are asked to push a shopping trolley, but the trolley is attached to a mat on which they are standing.

In the elephant’s version, researchers attached a stick to a mat using a rope. The elephants were required to walk on the mat, pick up the stick and pass it to the experimenter in front of them. In a control portion of the test, the stick was unattached to the mat, meaning the elephant could still pass the stick whilst standing on it.

The aim of the experiment was to see whether elephants understood the role of their bodies as potential obstacles to success in the task. The researchers observed how and when the elephants removed themselves from the mat in order to exchange the stick.

The study found that elephants stepped off the mat to pass the stick to the experimenter significantly more during the test (42/48 times) than during the control (3/48 times).

Dr Plotnik argues that studies such as this are important to help increase our understanding of and appreciation for the behaviour and intelligence of animals.

He adds that understanding behaviour also has important implications for the development of human/elephant conflict mitigation strategies. 

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Giraffe Conservation Foundation named BVNA’s charity of the year

News Story 1
 BVNA president Wendy Nevins has named The Giraffe Conservation Foundation as the association’s charity of the year for 2017/2018.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation dedicates its work to a sustainable future for wild giraffe populations. Wendy Nevins said: ‘I have chosen the Giraffe Conservation Foundation for the BVNA Charity of the Year because I have always thought Giraffes were magnificent animals.

‘I also think it is important that we look at the wider issue of conservation and education across all species.’  

News Shorts
Scientists win award for openness in animal research

UK scientists have won an award for the 360ş Laboratory Animal Tours project, which offered the public an online, interactive tour of four research facilities that are usually restricted access.

The project won a public engagement award at the Understanding Animal Research (UAR) Openness Awards, which recognise UK research facilities for transparency on their use of animals in research, as well as innovation in communicating with the public.

The tour was created by the Pirbright Institute, the University of Oxford, the University of Bristol and MRC Harwell Institute.