11 October 2010

Say what? Scientists to study talking elephant in South Korea

A group of Scientists from Germany recently traveled to a South Korean amusement park to study Kosik, an elephant who has reportedly taught himself to talk. Kosik, a twenty year old male Asian elephant can vocalize at least eight Korean words including “yes” “no” “hi” “sit” and “lie down."

Kosik speaks by placing his trunk in his mouth and shaking it while exhaling. Kosik’s keeper, Kim Tong-Gap said he first heard Kosik speak four years ago.

"At first, he had made a simple sound, not some specific word. However, as time went by, he was vocalizing some words accurately," Tong-Gap said.

Although Kosik has learned the phrases by imitating his trainer, it is unclear whether or not he understands the meanings of the words he vocalizes. Dr. Daniel Mietchen from the University of Jena in Germany is going to study Kosik to see if elephants are capable of learning language.

"As far as we know Kosik is the only living elephant capable of this, but there are other elephants imitated other sounds like sounds of truck or other elephants," Dr. Mietchen said.

An elephant named Batyr who lived in a zoo in Kazakhstan that died in 1993, was also said to have learned words and phrases.

Robin Lawless | @robmlaw
Robin lives in NYC with her cat Maggie where she follows a vegetarian lifestyle, practices yoga, and volunteers at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Follow Robin on Facebook

Photo credit: everland.com