Some animals are known for their ability to mimic human speech, but the elephant has never been one of them—until now. Scientists say that an Asian elephant at the Everland Zoo, in South Korea, has picked up human vocabulary. For years, workers at the zoo have insisted that the elephant, named Koshik, could imitate words. Now a team of scientists has confirmed Koshik's unusual talent.
They say the 22-year-old, 5.5-ton elephant can reproduce five Korean words, using his trunk together with his mouth. Koshik makes the sounds by moving his trunk inside his throat. According to a scientific paper published in Current Biology, Koshik can say the Korean words for hello, sit down, no, lie down and good. The scientists say it is not clear that the elephant understands all the words he says, although he does follow instructions when he is told to sit down or lie down.
Researchers believe the pachyderm learned to speak in an effort to bond with humans. According to veterinarian Shin Nam-sik, who has taken care of Koshik, the elephant is very close with his chief trainer. "That was the key factor that made the elephant want to sound like a human," Shin said.
Kim Jong-gab is Koshik's chief trainer. What phrase would he like to teach the elephant next? Saranghae, which means "I love you."
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