Elephant Peels Bananas: Here’s What Scientists Think


| LAST UPDATE 04/24/2023

By Amie Alfaro
Elephants Berlin Zoo Bananas
Cell Press via YouTube

Elephants are amazing creatures. Known for their large stature, beautiful tusks made of ivory, and their long trunks, it is easy to see why they are one of the most beloved species on Earth. Now there’s an elephant who is fascinating scientists because of a unique skill she developed – she learned how to peel a banana.

Pang Pha is an Asian elephant who lives at the Berlin Zoo. Zookeepers noticed that she was peeling her own bananas. One reached out to Lena Kaufmann, a neuroscientist at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Kaufmann and her research team decided to test out the behavior themselves and see what they could learn from it. They waited for weeks to see Pang Pha replicate the motion, but it never came. They discovered that Pang Pha was quite specific about the types of bananas that appealed to her. When she was handed green or yellow bananas, she would eat them whole. However, when she was given a slightly overripe banana covered with brown spots, she finally showed off her skills.

Elephant Peeling Banana Researcher
Cell Press via YouTube
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The researchers suspect that she developed this unique ability by observing the human caretakers who helped raise her. When she was first brought to the zoo, her primary caretaker would peel bananas in front of Pang Pha and feed them to her. No other elephants in the zoo have been observed practicing this behavior, not even Pang Pha’s daughter. The scientists wrote in their research, “The fact that Pang Pha’s daughter Anchali did not acquire banana peeling suggests that this skill is not easily transmitted by learning.” Although other animals in the zoo haven’t copied Pang Pha, she is not the only elephant with this unique ability. Other videos on the internet show elephants peeling bananas. This unique research opportunity has given scientists a unique look into how elephants learn behaviors and their cognition processes.

If you want to read the entire research, click here. As always, the animal kingdom continues to fascinate as researchers explore more about its various species.

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