Jumbo Minds

Elephants are proving just as smart as chimps in many areas—if not smarter

Photo by Darkroomillusions <flickr.com> Mother elephant and baby


Elephants are highly intelligent, use tools, and mourn their dead. They create complex social relationships, exhibit a wide spectrum of emotions, and even imitate human language. Although chimpanzees are very intelligent, social, and emotional animals, elephants rival, and even surpass chimpanzees in many of these human-like attributes. Of course, when chimps demonstrate such things, evolutionists are quick to use this to reinforce the belief that they are ultra-close to humans on the evolutionary ‘tree’. But elephants are not supposed to be. 


Elephants are extremely intelligent. They possess advanced memories and a self-awareness that can match any chimpanzee. Ironically, elephants have a paltry 0.2% brain size relative to their overall body size.1 Compare this with chimpanzees at about 0.8%,2 and humans at 2.3%,3 and you would think that elephants would be mental midgets. This is clear-cut evidence that relative brain size is not crucial when assessing a creature’s intelligence. Such ‘mind skills’ are all about the internal hard-wiring.

Social Structure and Emotional Capacity

Elephant social structure is based on a highly cohesive, matriarchal society. Elephants express an array of emotions and establish close, family bonds. They play, fight, cry, greet one another, and show special concern for their young.

Elephants also mourn their dead, often grieving and gathering together to guard the bodies for days. They have even been known to ‘bury’ them with vegetation.4 In addition, they have been observed becoming highly agitated and showing great interest in the bones, skulls, and ivory of other, long-dead elephants.5 Chimpanzees, on the other hand, interact with the bodies of their dead social partners, but leave once the body starts to decompose.6

Tool Use

Elephants are highly skilled tool users. Older matriarchs teach their young how to use sticks to swat flies from their bodies and to use scraps of vegetation to scratch themselves.7 Also, elephants have been observed stripping leaves off of small branches and creating new designs to swat flies. This type of tool use is just as advanced as that of any great ape.

Artistic Ability

Elephants are outstanding artists in the animal kingdom. They are known to make sketches on the ground, using their trunks to manipulate a stick. Even more impressive, several Thai elephants have been taught to paint abstract art in full view of zoo enthusiasts.8 It is not clear whether they truly understand what they are doing, but their ability to apply human instruction to the canvas is just as skillful as that of any chimpanzee.

Linguistic Skills

Photo by Wildlife Pictures Online—providing quality wildlife photos from Africa Mother elephant and baby

Recently, an elephant living in a South Korean zoo was recorded speaking eight Korean words.9 The elephant “speaks” by placing his trunk in his mouth, and shaking it while exhaling. A spectrogram revealed that the elephant’s voice frequency was nearly identical to that of his keeper’s. It is unclear whether or not the elephant is merely practicing the art of imitation or actually comprehends simple language. Zoo keepers, veterinarians, and scientists plan to conduct more studies.

Perhaps, elephants will now begin to receive thousands of hours of intense language training, just as chimpanzees have been receiving for years. It is not inconceivable that elephants might turn out to surpass chimpanzees in understanding and even vocalizing human language. This is already the case for some birds—see Bird-Brain Matches Chimps and Petulant Parrot Proves a Point.


Strip away the media hype and evolutionary spin, and the empirical evidence reveals that elephants rival, and even surpass, chimpanzees in many areas of intelligence, self-awareness, social complexity, emotional capacity, tool use, artistic and linguistic ability.

The Bible makes it clear that elephants10 and chimpanzees11 were created as distinct, animal ‘kinds’. However, human beings were specially created in the image of God with an intellectual, technological, emotional, and spiritual capacity far superior to any animal. Chimps are not human relatives any more than birds or elephants are, so when any other group of animals rivals chimps in ‘closeness to humans’, it may surprise evolutionists, but not creationists.

Published: 17 November 2006