An elephant at a zoo in South Korea has learned to imitate human speech and has a vocabulary of several words, researchers said Friday.
Koshik, a 22-year-old male Asian elephant at Everland zoo in Yongin, a city south of Seoul, greeted visiting journalists by “saying” choah (good) and nuo (lie down).
He can also make the sounds annyong (hi), anja (sit down) and aniya (no), according to a team of scientists from South Korea and Europe who studied his vocalisations.
Elephants cannot use their lips to make sounds like humans do, as their upper lips are fused with their noses to form their trunks.
But Koshik formulates the words by rolling up his trunk and putting it into his mouth. He then either places the tip of his trunk on his tongue or on the ceiling of his mouth to create different sounds.
The researchers said they were not completely sure how the elephant picked up the the skill, but they believe Koshik learned the words from his trainer of 19 years, Kim Jong-Gap.
“The only social bonds Koshik had made was with his trainer and we think he learned and imitated the words to form ties and trust with Kim,” Oh Suk-Hun, a veterinarian at Everland and co-author of the research, told reporters.