3 min read

Elephants Never Get Lost, Thanks To Their Very Own GPS

<p> <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/7093134917">Flickr/Matt Biddulph</a> </p>

Elephants never forget - directions, that is.

Due to their impressive spatial reasoning abilities, these large pachyderms craft remarkably accurate mental maps and use them to navigate the featureless savannah, a new study says.

This means that a thirsty elephant could use this internal GPS to look at all the watering holes for miles around and pick the easiest one to get to. Researchers over a two-year period found that elephants selected the closest watering hole 90 percent of the time, and set course for them from up to 30 miles away.

By studying the elephants' speed and direction, researchers ruled out that elephants were getting visual or other cues from the fairly monotonous landscape. Instead, they appear to build a complex and remarkably accurate map of the territory in their heads.

As this study, which was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, shows so clearly, elephants are designed to operate in large territories. Elephants in the wild travel several miles per day, which is why it's so sad that many of them are kept in cramped cages in circuses and zoos. It's also part of the reason that foot and joint problems are so common among captive elephants - they're not moving the way nature intended.

And as this study shows, they're also remarkably intelligent. It's well documented that elephants never forget a face - apparently they don't forget where that face was, either.