Are Elephants Smart? (What Is Their Intelligence)

Elephants have the biggest brain among any land mammal. In fact, they have three times as many neurons as humans have. These neurons exist to control its large and dexterous body and have demonstrated impressive mental capabilities.

Are elephants smart? Yes, elephants are exceptionally smart creatures. Many studies show the great cognitive functioning of this mammal in terms of performing tasks and problem-solving skills. They also have extraordinary memory functioning.

Here are some facts explaining the elephant’s intelligence and how brilliant these mammals are compared to other species.

Are Elephants Intelligent?

Yes, elephants are considered to be highly intelligent mammals. They are one of the most socially intricate and emotionally complex nonhuman species.

These mammals are believed to rank equal to dolphins in terms of problem-solving skills.

Researchers found out that elephants can distinguish the difference between human gender, age, and ethnicity. These mammals were able to do so by just listening to a human’s voice alone.

They also found out that if the voice belongs to someone who seems to pose a threat, they eventually resort to a defensive mode.

They even tried to play recordings of someone from different languages. After hearing those, the elephants started to show signs of fear and moved away from the voice.

Another fantastic fact about these animal’s intelligence is that they could even use tools. Elephants are known to use sticks to scratch areas in their body that are out of their reach.

Some elephants in other countries are observed to dig a hole to reach drinking water.

These giant creatures are so brilliant that they could even understand body language.

Researchers have observed that elephants understand human pointing. They tested it by pointing to food hidden in two identical containers. And to their surprise, the elephant picked the correct container.

These mammals can also perform tasks even with minimal instruction only. It has been observed among captive elephants.

Another recent study shows that these mammals express empathy. It has been observed that elephants are comforting one another when distressed. They even extend this behavior not only to their co animal but also to humans.

They also know how to mimic human voices and have an extraordinary memory. They could even track one another over a significant distance by calling each other and using their strong sense of smell.

Related: Do Elephants Have Good Memory?

What Is The IQ Of An Elephant?

Intelligence quotient can’t be measured for nonhumans like elephants. This IQ can only be generated through an Intelligence test that is designed for humans. Also, it isn’t easy to administer this among animals.

But elephants were able to pass a test of intelligence related to cognitive functioning. Scientists considered the results of it to have profound implications in understanding their mental capabilities.

This test of intelligence includes general intelligence, like the ability to carry out a task and display a variety of skills.

These mammals are capable of performing cognitive tasks. They also show a sense of self-understanding, which is rare among other animals.

Researchers also tried to gauge their intelligence in a test that involved asking them to pick up a stick and then hand it over to the researcher.

They have found out that elephants understand that their bodies are getting in the way. So, these mammals stepped aside to enable themselves to complete the task. This kind of task is something humans cannot fully understand until they reach at least two years old.

Are Elephants Smarter Than Us?

Even if elephants have a huge brain and the most neurons, they still do not outsmart humans.

The human brains and the elephants are different in various ways. They both have different parts with different neuron concentrations.

Despite the number of neurons that elephants have, humans still have more neurons in the cerebral cortex. It is associated with higher cognitive functioning that includes rational thinking and decision-making.

The elephant’s brain cells are concentrated in areas related to its movement.

Also, an elephant brain is designed and wired to perform elephant tasks. It’s not about the size of the brain that makes species intelligent; it’s how they use it.

smart and intelligent elephant

Elephants IQ Compared To Other Animals.

It is undeniable that elephants are some of the most intelligent animals in the world. However, some animals function smart as these elephants do. Here is a comparison of the elephant’s IQ compared to other species.


Elephants are ranked equal to dolphins in terms of problem-solving abilities. However, dolphins have stronger memory compared to elephants.

But in terms of perception, this humongous land mammal shines better than dolphins.


These giraffes are also intelligent. They can be able to adapt quickly in response to changing external stimuli.

These animals are brilliant when it comes to food. Also, they have good eyesight.


Lions are known as the brainiest of the big cats. They use to work together and defend their territory.

These mammals are great hunters. It has excellent night vision, which is six times more sensitive to light compared to other mammals.

They are pretty good at using their hunting tactics to catch their prey. They could communicate through several vocalizations with varying intensity and pitch.


Tigers have physically big brains but smaller than elephants.

They show higher intelligence in the carnivorous family. These animals are also highly strategic when it comes to hunting.

Just like elephants, tigers have a good memory. Their short-term memory holds approximately thirty times longer compared to other mammals.


Monkeys, specifically chimpanzees, are also one of the most intelligent animals. Elephants are as intelligent as monkeys.

Like elephants, the monkey’s memory is also extraordinary.

It is found out that young monkeys use photographic memory that allows this animal to recall images with high accuracy.

However, elephants do better than monkeys in the aspect of empathy and altruism.


Cats have a brain structure that is similar to other intelligent animals. Its cerebral cortex, where rational thinking and decision-making take place, has 300 million neurons.

Their intelligence is measured as to how they socialize and interact with humans. These animals also display good short-term and long-term memories.

Are Elephants Smarter Than Dogs?

Dogs are as intelligent as a toddler. They, too, have emotions and can learn new tricks. They are generally seen as competent in the fact that they are trainable.

Elephants, on the other hand, are way smarter than dogs. Elephants develop self-awareness in which dogs do not.

Dogs observe humans and understand human communication; While elephants understand body language, voices, and different languages. Both animals follow human pointing.

In terms of the classic cooperation game, elephants learn quickly, even without prior training.


In summary, animal intelligence is a subtle concept. Each species has its unique characteristics as well as intelligence.

Some animals outsmart the other in a specific aspect. One animal can be clever in terms of its social skills. Others can be great in terms of their memory.

Even measuring their intelligence is not that easy. Experts don’t know for sure what makes one species smarter than another. There is no single tool that can explain these differences.

Elephants indeed manifest a variety of behaviors and extraordinary intelligence. A lot of evidence shows that these mammals can communicate nonverbally.

They are equal to aquatic mammals such as dolphins. Aside from their high intelligence, elephants have strong family ties. They have been described as the animal that surpasses all others in wit and mind.

Nevertheless, brain size, number of neurons, number of connections, different structures, densities, how these are connected really plays a huge role in an animal’s intelligence.


Image credits – Canva

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I'm David, and safari has been my passion since I was a little boy - I grew up in South Africa. I love to help spread knowledge about safari, so let me know if you have any questions. Read more