An Asian elephant named Pang Pha has amazed researchers at the Berlin Zoo with her banana peeling skills.
After arriving at the Berlin Zoo in 1987 as a baby, Pha is now the center of research surrounding elephants’ use and control of their trunks. While Pha does eat bananas whole like most elephants, the Asian elephant took to peeling her own bananas after watching her caretaker peel them for her.
However, Pha has a select type of bananas she likes to peel. When it comes to green or freshly ripened yellow bananas, the elephant will consume them whole. On the other hand, brown bananas aren’t an option for Pha. After much trial and error, the researchers discovered that yellow-brown bananas were the key.
Pha’s technique is a little different and faster than how people peel the fruit.
Breaking her selected banana in half, Pha squeezes the fruit’s core out of its peel, which is then discarded. Within moments, her trunk grabs the soft center and places it into her mouth.
Michael Brecht — Humboldt University’s professor of neurobiology and senior author of Pha’s study — shared with CNN that the elephant eats bananas “like a machine.” Aware of her surroundings, Pha will hurriedly consume bananas without peeling when there are other elephants around. However, she makes sure to save one to peel later.
Pha’s ability to peel bananas is possibly an adaptation to her human environment. Brecht explains that an elephant’s use of their trunk is not only based on their long lifespans but also their ability to remember new experiences.
“Elephants’ ability to adapt their behavior goes hand-in-hand with their long lifespans, sometimes more than 80 years. In order to survive for so long, they need to be able to react to and remember new experiences. [Learning is] a big part of elephant life.”