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elephants never forget

April 15, 2010

I have my first post request! Some friends of mine asked me to write a post about the phrase “elephants never forget”. I’ve been wanting to discuss elephant phrases  like “elephants never forget”, “the elephant in the room”, “white elephant”, and “pink elephant” and the origins of these phrases in this blog, so I am glad I got this request. Thanks Dave and Sarah :)

“Elephants Never Forget” Is this true? What are the origins of the phrase?

“Elephants never forget” is related to the phrase “a memory like an elephant”. There is not much information on when people began using these two phrases, but both are referring to the very impressive memories elephants are known to have. For many years, the proof of amazing elephant memories were based on people’s observations. Humans saw that elephant swould always follow the same paths during migration. Additionally, humans that have had relationships with an elephant report the elephant recognizing and remembering them after long absences. Or if an elephant had a bad experience with a human it will remember and become angry if it sees the human again later in life.

Now there are studies to provide evidence for the strength of an elephant’s memory. One study, published in the New Scientist, can be read here. It discusses how elephants can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Elephants will experience a stressful event at an early age but when they grow older something will trigger the memory of the stress they experienced years ago. This is usually when the elephant lashes out and then we see reports in the news about a zookeeper being killed by an elephant. This is also why some people have begun to use the phrase “elephants never forget and never forgive”.

shirt design from shirtoid.com

An elephant’s memory is the key to its survival and this is why it has to be so powerful. Elephants use their memory to keep out strangers from their clan. If an unknown approaches an elephant clan, they will all stand together until the matriarch decides if the unknown person, animal or thing is a threat to the clan. Elephants also recognize members of their group by remembering urine smells. Elephants can remember urine smells of up to 30 of their relatives. This “talent” allows elephants to keep track of other members of their herd. More information about this interesting survival technique can  be found in here in Royal Society Publishing, Biology Letters.

Some people believe that elephants’ memories are what have allowed to be some of the longest living animals. Elephants are known for their longevity. They can live as long as humans. The oldest recorded elephant lived to be 86 years old.

Lastly, elephants are known to be one of the smartest elephants after dolphins and primates like chimpanzees. Since intelligence and memory are linked, their intelligence is probably a product of their strong memories.

Elephants’ great memories is actually one of my favorite aspects of these animals. I admire people with exceptionally good memories because my memory seems to fail me a lot. It is really hard for me to remember details of my childhood and things that happened to me a long time ago. Sometime I kind of feel incomplete because of that. Also, I cannot remember movies that I watch after a few months have passed. I will not remember anything that happened in the movie. When I watch the movie again I will slowly begin to recall, but I was never one who you could easily discuss a favorite movie with. And I’m definitely not someone who quotes famous movie lines.

There are two aspects of my memory who kind of resemble an elephant’s memory. I  can remember a face. I may not know where I’ve seen you or any details surrounding our meeting but I will remember that I’ve met you. You know sometimes when you meet someone and the next time you see them they don’t remember you? So they introduce themselves like you’ve never met before. I’m that awkward girl who will tell you that I’ve met you before and embarrass you. I can’t help it! It is kind of insulting when you meet someone but they don’t remember you!

Second, I can remember a conversation. I HATE when people tell me the same thing over and over again. “We just had this conversation yesterday. Why are you telling em this again?” I don’t make it awkward though. I usually just let them tell me again….

In conclusion, elephants have extraordinary memories and that’s why we say “elephants never forget”.

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5 comments

  1. This is such a cool post! I love the bit about the matriarchs (not the patriarchs) deciding who’s a threat to the group. Yay Mama Elephant! :-)


    • i know that is pretty cool! :)


  2. 1. i LOVE that shirt. LOVE. rofl.
    2. wow… elephants with PTSD. i wonder if there will ever be treatments?
    3. never telling YOU any stories again…


  3. I just love animals! And another news… I just found out that Manila Zoo has a cute elephant named Mali, and she is the only elephant in the Philippines! She has lived there for almost all of her lives, for more than 30 years. The zoo should feel like her sweet and cozy home now. But then, I read some articles in PETAAsiaPacific.com, and I noticed that Mali is in fact sad and lonely! Look at her here: https://www.facebook.com/FreeMali. She is like a prisoner, who cannot spend her days with her friends, roam in vast territories, and have delicious adequate food! She even suffers from foot problems. Why does she deserve this? :( Please Help Her!


  4. asiatic people are especially cruel because they want to reap money at the expense of animals and care for nothing else.



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