The elephant in the room is talking

If your pet starts trying to talk to you, don’t panic. It probably just heard about these other animals and wanted to try and catch its 15 minutes. Or it could be possessed; you’ve got a 50/50 chance.  A 22-year old Asian elephant at a zoo in South Korea has begun imitating human speech. The zoo had been stating this for years but it took an international team of scientists to confirm the report.

Koshik the elephant

Koshik and his handler.

The elephant, Koshik, can reproduce “annyeong” (hello), “anja” (sit down), “aniya” (no), “nuwo” (lie down) and “joa” (good) by sticking his trunk inside his mouth. Zoo officials claim he can also imitate the word “ajik” (not yet) though the team of scientists have yet to confirm that one. Koshik is best at vowels with a 67 percent rate similarity but consonants give him a bit of trouble with only a 27 percent rate of similarity. Koshik though is not the first reported case of an elephant imitating human speech. In 1983, zoo officials in Kazakhstan claimed that an elephant named ‘Baytr’ could reproduce 20 Russian phrases but there was never a scientific study to confirm the report.

Then there is the story of the Beluga Whale named Noc. It all started in 1984(only a year after the first report of a ‘talking’ elephant) when handlers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego begin hearing what they thought sounded like someone talking just out of earshot. The sounds where coming from around the whale and dolphin enclosure but it wasn’t until a diver in the enclosure mistook Noc for another handler telling him to get out of the water that they began to put two and two together. There is an audio sample of Noc speaking available around the web and it is interesting to listen to. According to one report, however, once Noc reached maturity he either lost the ability or just realized that we were not that interesting and gave up trying to communicate with us.

Beluga whale

“Yeah, well your mother was a Harpy!” the Beluga whale said to the little girl. (Note: Not actual conversation. I have no idea what sort of exchange really went on here.)

Sadly, Noc died five years ago.

So did something happen in 1983-1984 to cause these animals to suddenly pick up human speech? Could we be facing a ‘Planet of the Apes’ type animal uprising? The explanation being given is that the animals were simply lonely. Let’s hope that’s all it is, I do not want to become a slave to a ferret.

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