Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Behavioral Research


Although scientists are very familiar with the interaction and communication of African elephants, they know almost nothing about the social lives of Asian elephants.

Elephant Trails will give scientists unparalleled opportunities to study elephant behavior, including female interactions, cow/calf relationships, bull behavior, cognition, mate choice, and more. The research will help us create the best social and physical environment for healthy Zoo elephants, understand how elephants use infrasound communication, and use this knowledge to increase opportunities for interactions among our elephants.

There are many reasons Asian elephants hold a special place in our hearts, from a remarkable intelligence to a prominent role in Asian culture. Asian elephants are clever, curious, and playful. They are adept at tool use, which they learn from the older members of the herd. They use branches to scratch themselves or to remove flies from their bodies. They use their trunks to throw objects purposefully—out of play, curiosity, defense, or aggression. With the largest brain of any mammal, elephants are highly intelligent and have an impressive memory.

Extremely social animals, Asian elephants have strong family ties. They engage in greeting ceremonies, complex communication, courtship, teaching, and communal care. Female family members often stay together their entire lives. Mothers and aunts protect calves when they are threatened. Asian elephants have also been known to stay behind with a sick or injured herd mate.