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Elephant peels bananas, stunned scientists start study 

Screengrab from the video showing Berlin Zoo elephant Pang Pha peeling banana

Considered one of the most intelligent beings on the earth, the elephant continues to surprise human beings. Now the latest instance is that of the Asian elephant Pang Pha, who is 36 and resident of Berlin Zoo and knows how to peel bananas on her own with her trunk.

Interestingly she doesn’t peel all types of bananas. The complete yellow or green is consumed with the peel but the yellow with brown spots is broken into two, with the pulp shaken out to be eaten while leaving the peel.

Adding a touch of drama, she avoids doing this act in front of other elephants eating the bananas whole except the last one which is peeled.

Pang Pha’s novel behaviour is the subject of a paper which has been published in the journal Current Biology reminding us of the varied talents of elephants including body awareness and ability to solve problems.

The first time when her ability to peel was observed, the Zoo brought it to the notice of experts at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Intrigued, the scientists kept giving her bananas but she just gulped them.

Talking to Live Science, Lena Kaufmann, study’s co-author and Humboldt University neuroscientist said: “She just took the banana and ate it. So I started doubting it.”

Later, it was realised that she had been given perfectly ripe fruit. Observing her specific peeling preferences, researchers thought that she was partial to spotted ones as their flesh slide easily when compared to overripe or underripe ones or that she didn’t like the taste of spotted peels.

Further they wondered why her behaviour changed in the company of other elephants. Maybe it was to avoid wasting time in face competition for the fruit.

Her behaviour was not mimicked by others of her fraternity in the zoo even though they had watched Pang Pha several times. This includes her daughter Anchali who gets to eat fruits peeled by her mother.

Scientists are unable to explain how she learnt this trick but think she learnt it during childhood after seeing her dedicated caretaker who hand-raised her and peeled bananas for her. She acquired the art of de-skinning which is important.

Commenting on that, Michael Brecht, neuroscientist at Humboldt University and the study’s co-author observed: “What makes Pang Pha’s banana peeling so unique is a combination of factors — skilfulness, speed, individuality and the putatively human origin — rather than a single behavioural element.”