Elephants use smell to distinguish hunters from farmers
October 18, 2007
Elephants can determine whether a human is a friend or foe by their scent, reports new research published in Current Biology.
Scientists working in Kenya presented the elephants with identical red garments worn for five days either by Maasai hunters or by farmers from the Kamba tribe. They found that elephants fled faster when they smelled the body odor of Maasai.
The researchers then tested whether elephants use color to classify potential threat and found that the animals reacted strongly to red, a color associated with Maasai hunters.
“We see this experiment as just a start to investigating precisely how elephants ‘see the world,’ and it may be that their abilities will turn out to equal or exceed those of our closer relatives, the monkeys and apes,” said University of St Andrews Professor Richard Byrne, who co-authored the study with Dr Lucy Bates.
“We think that this is the first time that it has been experimentally shown that any animal can categorise a single species of potential predator into subclasses based on such subtle cues,” the authors added.