Elephant see, elephant do, it seems. In a new paper this week, researchers describe an Asian elephant that has learned how to peel a banana before eating it. The pachyderm, named Pang Pha, likely adopted the trick from watching humans but appears to only peel certain bananas.
Pang Pha is a female Asian elephant and resident at the Berlin Zoo. Zookeepers there alerted scientists at the Humboldt University of Berlin and elsewhere about Pang Pha’s peeling trick, so the researchers decided to come witness it for themselves. When they fed her fully yellow or green bananas, Pang Pha ate them whole—a normal elephant behavior—and she completely eschewed eating brown bananas. But, upon being given yellow bananas with brown spots, she became a peeling machine. With her trunk, she breaks the banana, shakes out the pulp, and then discards the peel.
“We discovered a very unique behavior,” said Michael Brecht of the Humboldt University of Berlin in a statement released by Cell Press. “What makes Pang Pha’s banana peeling so unique is a combination of factors—skillfulness, speed, individuality, and the putatively human origin—rather than a single behavioral element.”
Pang Pha appears to have picked up the behavior by observing her caretakers, who raised her by hand and would regularly feed her peeled bananas. But banana-peeling seems to be a rare skill in the elephant world, and no other elephants at the Berlin Zoo have adopted it. Pang Pha also seems to be shy about displaying her peeling: When eating bananas in a group, she’ll gobble most of them whole, while saving one to peel and eat on her own later. Not only can Pang Pha peel bananas, she does it faster than humans, according to the researchers.
The team’s research was published Monday in the journal Current Biology. A YouTube video showing off Pang Pha’s peeling prowess can be seen here.
The findings are the latest to indicate that elephants have some truly impressive cognitive abilities. Just last week, a separate team of scientists argued that elephants may be the only non-primate animal that could be considered “self-domesticated,” meaning they’ve evolved on their own to exhibit reduced aggression and strong social bonding behaviors.