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- An elephant named at the Berlin Zoo really likes peeling her bananas.
- Unlike other elephants, Pang Pha peels the spotty yellow ones, but eats green and yellow ones whole.
- Researchers said they think she may have developed a taste for peeled bananas thanks to a doting caretaker.
An Asian elephant at a zoo in Germany eats her bananas in an unusual way: peeling them with her trunk, rather than eating them whole.
Video featured in the study shows Pha being handed a spotty banana. After taking it with her trunk, the elephant breaks the banana in half. She then peels each half by picking it up again and shaking it until the soft fleshy interior falls out. She then uses her trunk again to grab it and pop it in her mouth, discarding the peel.
The study said Pha would only engage in peeling if handed a yellow banana with brown spots.
Researchers were initially stumped by when Pha would choose to peel or not, with weeks going by without her peeling a single banana. They eventually realized it was the ripeness of the banana that determined whether or not she would peel or eat it.
When given a green or yellow banana, she will eat the entire thing, peel and all, similar to other elephants. When a banana is totally brown, she won’t bother with it. Video from the study showed that Pha rejected the mostly brown bananas she was given, even throwing one of them back at the experimenter who handed it to her.
But when a banana is just ripe, or yellow with brown spots? She peels it before eating.
Pha will also skip peeling in a social setting, when she is competing for the bananas with other elephants that are present, according to the study. In that setting, she will typically eat spotty yellow bananas whole, just like everyone else — except for one. She saves the last banana to peel and eat later, just how she likes it.
Though elephants have been documented using their trunks in many interesting ways, researchers said peeling bananas appeared to be a rare behavior. But they think Pha may have learned from a species that are pros at it: humans.
The study said Pha’s main caretaker used to take the extra step of peeling her bananas before feeding them to her, and that she may have “acquired peeling by observational learning from her human caretakers.”
Michael Brecht, a co-author of the study and a neuroscientist at Humboldt University of Berlin, told The New York Times that allowed Pha not to just observe a banana being peeled, but also to develop a taste preference for the peeled version.
Learning through observation is common in animals. A zoo in Virginia last month said an orangutan named Zoe who struggled to nurse learned to do it after observing a human zookeeper breastfeeding her own baby.
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