Bronx, New York--A stunning experiment conducted at the Bronx Zoo has found that elephants show self-recognition. And self-loathing -- if it's a female, that is.
The "mirror-recognition" test has been performed on chimps and dolphins, among other higher life forms (sharks were not studied for an obvious reason: antisocial personaility disorder), demonstrating that many individuals can recognize their own reflection.
Three elephants were tested, Dopey and Doc (males) and Happy (female). But only Happy showed that she recognized herself by repeatedly touching a spot placed on her face in such a way that she could ONLY see it in the mirror.
Animal behavioralists were skeptical about the conclusions, but a misreading of the data may have occurred because male elephants are notoriously oblivious to the way they look. Females, on the other hand, are appearance-obsessed.
Confirmation for this sex difference was contained in the results themselves; we simply need to scrutinize each subject for the more subtle clues.
Dopey seemed to scoff at his image, and then sauntered away to spray dirt on his back. His "ignoring" response was altogether typical for the male; it is thought that the male lack of interest in his own image relates to his inner confidence.
Doc sprayed dirt AT the mirror while giving the (wait for it...) Bronx cheer. He then plodded over to the trough, aiming to provoke Dopey into a food fight.
They horsed around for a good thirty minutes, neither one so much as glancing in the mirror again. Doc also demonstrated the supreme self-confidence that is typical of males.
Only Happy showed the classic "self-awareness" by trunking the spot on her cheek. Repeatedly. But buried deep in the report were Happy's OTHER behaviors.
She not only tried to squeeze the spot, as if it were a zit, but also randomly grabbed some straw and tried to make a "hat" out of it. For many minutes she adjusted the straw, piling it up this way and that, adding and removing an apple or a blade of grass. She turned her head side to side, lifting her trunk slightly as if posing for a head shot.
Her profile displeased her, evidenced by the minutes of foot-hammering given the suddenly raked off straw; the pulverizing of the straw "hat" into a mash spoke volumes about her state of mind.
She topped this off by spitting on the mirror.
She then spit (her specialty, apparently) on another clutch of straw and made numerous unsuccessful attempts to make it stick to her chest. A brooch is NEVER to be worn during the day, she seemed to think, when she slammed it to the ground.
It wasn't difficult to interpret this behavior because she kept stomping the ground and crying out.
Next, she grabbed bits of food and tried to arrange them around her neck (pachyderm jewelry?) without any success whatsoever.
At one point she placed a bucket on her head in an obvious attempt to go for a different look. It, too, displeased her. She threw it across the yard with such force that the clatter almost drew the attention of Dopey and Doc, who were then mock-mounting one another.
Elephants have not been known, until now, to express a fashion sense. After each "fitting" session, she stamped the ground (awesome elephant hissy fit) and honked in utter frustraton.
In a final move, she twisted around to get a look at her rump.
The zoo keeper suggested that she was fatigued, but the principle investigator for the study insisted that when she spit on the mirror, she was saying to herself: "I look fat in this."