In Lampang, Thailand, two elephants have a problem. They’ve walked into adjacent paddocks separated by a fence. In front of them is a sliding table with two food bowls, but it’s out of reach and the way is barred by a stiff net. A rope has been looped around the table and one end snakes into each of the paddocks. If either jumbo tugs on the rope individually, the entire length will simply whip round into its paddock, depriving both of them of food. This job requires teamwork.
And the elephants know it. Joshua Plotnik from Emory University has shown that when confronted by this challenge, elephants learn to coordinate with their partners. They eventually pull on the rope ends together to drag the table towards them. They even knew to wait for their partner if they were a little late. It’s yet more evidence that these giant animals have keen intellects that rival those of chimps and other mental heavyweights.