What Elephants Can Teach Us About Teamwork

Are you as smart as an elephant?

We’d like to think we are – but at times, it’s tempting to wonder if that’s always the case. Elephants understand instinctively what some of us never quite get right; the fact that there are many things in life, from battle to business, which just can’t be accomplished without teamwork.

A fascinating study was published by the National Academy of Science on elephant cooperation that involved 12 male and female elephants from the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lan Pang, Thailand. The experiment involved researchers positioning a sliding table holding bowls of corn, which elephants love, some distance away from a volleyball net barrier. A rope was coiled around the table so that the sliding table would only move if two elephants working together pulled on the dangling ends of the rope. If just one elephant pulled, the rope would completely unravel. After quickly learning that the corn on the tabletop could not be accessed solo, elephants would wait up to 45 minutes for a second elephant to show up. If the researchers did not release the second elephant, the first one just looked around as if to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. It takes two to do this.” In most cases, the elephants figured out that the only way to get the corn was by working together.

This kind of advanced learning and problem-solving by cooperation is pretty rare in the animal kingdom. Scientists have discovered proof that the evolution of intelligence and larger brain sizes can be driven by cooperation and teamwork, shedding completely new light on the origins of what it actually means to be human.