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African elephants (Loxodonta africana) display remarkable olfactory acuity in human scent matching to sample performance

von Dürckheim, Katharina E.M., Hoffman, Louwrens C., Leslie, Alison, Hensman, Michael C., Hensman, Sean, Schultz, Kip, Lee, Stephen
Applied animal behaviour science 2018 v.200 pp. 123-129
Loxodonta africana, animal behavior, cotton, dogs, forensic sciences, glass, humans, jars, memory, nationalities and ethnic groups, odors, operant conditioning, Europe
This paper presents data on the success rate of African elephants in human scent matching to sample performance. Working with equipment and protocols similar to those used in the training of forensic canine units in Europe, scent samples were collected on cotton squares from twenty-six humans of differing ethnic groups, sexes and ages, and stored in glass jars. Three African elephants were trained to match human body scent to the corresponding sample. In total, four hundred and seventy trials, during which the elephant handlers were blind to the experiment details, were conducted. Each trial consisted of one scent that served as the starting (target) sample to which the elephant then systematically determined a potential match in any of the nine glass jars presented. Elephants matched target and sample at levels significantly higher than indicated by random chance, displayed no loss of working memory, and successfully discriminated target odours. They also discriminated between related human individuals spanning three generations and including sibling pairs. In addition to demonstrating scent matching capabilities, this experiment supported the elephants’ significant ability to perform well at operant conditioning tasks.