An Asian elephant learned to peel its own bananas with its trunk and may have figured it out after watching its keeper do it for her

To the elephant holding a banana in its trunk.

An elephant in the Berlin Zoo loves peeling bananas.David Guinaldo/EyeEm/Getty Images

  • An elephant named at the Berlin Zoo really likes to peel his bananas.

  • Unlike other elephants, Pang Pha peels the speckled yellow ones, but eats the green and yellow ones whole.

  • The researchers said they think he may have developed a taste for peeled bananas thanks to a loving caretaker.

An Asian elephant in a zoo in Germany eats its bananas in an unusual way: by peeling them with its trunk, instead of eating them whole.

Pang Pha, an elephant at the Berlin Zoo, was caught using its trunk to peel ripe bananas before eating them, according to an article published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

The video featured in the studio shows Pha being handed a speckled banana. Having caught it with its trunk, the elephant breaks the banana in half. He then peels each half by picking it up again and shaking it until the soft, meaty inside falls out. Then he uses his proboscis again to grab it and put it in his mouth, discarding the peel.

The study said Pha would only commit to peeling if handed a yellow banana with brown spots.

Researchers were initially puzzled as to when Pha would choose to peel or not, with weeks going by without her peeling a single banana. Eventually they realized that it was the ripeness of the banana that determined whether she would peel or eat it.

When given a green or yellow banana, she will eat the whole thing, peel and all, similar to other elephants. When a banana is completely brown, she won’t care. Video from the study showed her Pha refusing the mostly brown bananas she was given, even throwing one at the experimenter who handed it to her.

But when is a banana just ripe, or yellow with brown spots? She peels it before eating it.

Pha will also skip peeling in a social setting, when it competes for bananas with other elephants in attendance, according to the study. In that environment, she typically will eat whole speckled yellow bananas, just like everyone else, except one. She saves the last banana to peel and eat later, just the way she likes it.

Although elephants have been documented using their trunks in many interesting ways, the researchers said peeling bananas appears to be a rare behavior. But they think Pha may have learned from one species that are professionals: humans.

The study stated that Pha’s primary caretaker used to take the extra step of peeling her bananas before feeding them, and that she may have “acquired the peeling through observational learning from her human caretakers.”

Michael Brecht, co-author of the study and a neuroscientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, told the New York Times that Pha not only allowed people to look at a peeled banana, but also to develop a taste preference for the peeled version.

Learning through observation is common in animals. A zoo in Virginia last month said an orangutan named Zoe who struggled to breastfeed learned to do so after observing a human zookeeper breastfeeding her own baby.

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