One of my friends sent me a link to this video the other day; it’s about an elephant painting a picture. There are some elephant painting art galleries around these days but most of them are abstract stuff like flowers and plants. You can even buy them for about $500 each. This elephant, however, is painting a picture of another elephant – and not only that, one that’s holding a flower!
There are some interesting deductions we can make here. First off, this is a representative painting; it demonstrates that other animals, specifically elephants, have the capability to express themselves using images. Second, the image demonstrates depth perception: the back legs of the painted elephant are clearly behind and obscured by the front legs. Third, the elephant draws the outline of the elephant first, then the details such as the eye, ear, left legs, and tail. Fourth, the elephant has a clear idea of what color is dark enough by repainting some areas of the outline over again; it’s making a conscious decision to ensure the painting is legible enough. Fifth, the fact that the elephant is painting an elephant demonstrates that the elephant can differentiate itself from other elephants (either it’s a self-portrait, or a portrait of another elephant – though we don’t know if it’s a real elephant or an imaginary one). Of course, we already knew that elephants are emotionally attached to their dead kin…
Sixth, that flower demonstrates a form of symbolism that simply cannot be obtained normally. The elephant in the picture is clearly communicating some form of complex symbolism by depicting the elephant in the picture holding a flower. This does not appear to be something elephants normally do and thus holds a different significance than an ‘ordinary action’ image would. That flower is simply the most interesting thing of all in that picture and the fact that the elephant drew an elephant holding a flower is something that has a meaning I find difficult to fathom. If you ask me, that’s creativity there and some form of symbolism.
I hope elephant studies like this continue – it might be possible to communicate with elephants eventually as we do with chimps.