Watch: New Documentary Reveals Elephants Are Much More Intelligent Than We Ever Thought

Across Africa, elephants are in crisis. Each day, 96 elephants fall victim to poachers, human-elephant conflict and habitat loss. In 2013, Paul G. Allen launched the Great Elephant Census, the first pan-African aerial survey of savanna elephants in more than 40 years.Soon after surveyors began their work, they observed something that truly surprised them.


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In the past 40 years, in the face of growing threats, elephants have changed where and how they live in their historic ecosystems.

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This incredible discovery, combined with the latest studies from the top elephant researchers in the world, revealed that elephants are learning to adapt and survive in ways we’ve never seen before.

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We join the experts in Africa to see their work firsthand in "Mind of a Giant," premiering Sunday, June 19, at 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD.

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Never before has this volume of compatible elephant research been featured in a single film. "Mind of a Giant" is a window into the world of the modern elephant, supremely intelligent creatures living and fighting for their lives in a world of poachers, new human settlements and other dangers. 

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Together with the top elephant researchers in the world, we learn about how these gentle giants exhibit empathy, grief, joy, fear and vengefulness.

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The more we understand these majestic creatures, the more we can help them live on for future generations.

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The Experts

Sir Iain Douglas Hamilton is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the African elephant and founder of Save the Elephants, a leading research and conservation organization. In 1988 he was awarded the Order of the Golden Ark—one of conservation’s highest awards—and in 2015 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Save the Elephants conducts vital research on elephant behavior and ecology and pioneered GPS radio tracking in Africa to provide fresh insight into the life of elephants.

Frank Pope tracks the daily movements of elephants across a dangerous landscape. Pope is chief operations officer for Save the Elephants. He speaks to the fact that that elephants have learned exactly where safe territory ends and enemy territory begins. This new behavior proves that the elephants are aware of the location of their enemies, and that they have learned to proactively strategize their movements to avoid their foes.

Josh Plotnik founded Think Elephants International in 2011. His research on elephant intelligence has been published in some of science’s top peer-reviewed journals and has garnered millions of media impressions since 2006. Perhaps his best-known study centers on elephant self-awareness, which was conducted by placing a mirror in front of captive Asian elephants. He suggests that a mirror may truly be the window to an elephant’s soul, but he’s never shown a wild African elephant a mirror until now.

Joyce Poole, co-founder of Elephant Voices and one of the world’s leading elephant behaviorists, is an expert on how elephants communicate with one another. She shares some of the more than 250 postures, gestures and vocalizations she has identified that elephants use to communicate, and reveals their extraordinary ability to plan and coordinate their responses to threats.

Bob Jacobs studies the brains of elephants and humans at Colorado College. He reveals just how incredibly interconnected elephant brains are, and the massive processing power their huge brains possess. Elephants may be able to understand what what another animal is thinking, a trait that very few creatures can claim.

Watch the video clip "Elephant in the Mirror" from "Mind of a Giant":

Watch the video clip "Looking at an Elephant's Big Brain" from "Mind of a Giant":

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