Elephants can catch a yawn from humans

Contagious yawning between animals is common apparently. However, it is rare for animals to “catch a yawn” from a human. But it has been seen in chimps, dogs and now elephants.

A new study indicates that elephants can engage in contagious yawning between themselves and when they see a human yawning. A video has been released from the Knysna elephant park, which is a sanctuary in Western Cape of South Africa. It shows the first documented case of elephants catching a yawn from humans. I can’t find the video at this time 😉 .

Elephants can catch a yawn from humans
Elephants can catch a yawn from humans. Photo: Tambako The Jaguar on Flickr.

Zoë T. Rossman, from New Mexico University said that it indicates that how highly developed elephants are. Although they are distantly related to humans, like many animals, they have a higher level of intelligence beyond that which people sometimes believe.

The first recorded contagious yawning from an elephant was observed in 2017 (see study below) by Zoë.

In her latest elephant yawning study she selected elephant keepers at the park for whom the herd has shown a preference. She monitored 10 elephants between the ages of 9 and 27 for two weeks. Over this time, some keepers made fake yawns and others simply opened their mouths but not as a yawn.

The fake yawns prompted elephants to yawn while the openmouthed movements did not produce the same effect. The elephants’ keepers were unsure until they saw the first yawn “and then they went wild” according to Zoë.

Please note that sometimes videos do not work. I have no control over this and it has happened I am sorry. The video shows the elephant Park in general terms and does not show contagious yawning.

Some more on Zoë’s 2017 study into elephant yawning

Zoë Rossman was the lead scientist on this earlier study and she works at the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University Of California Davis, Davis, California, USA.

In her abstract to the study entitled When Yawning Occurs in Elephants she says that yawning is a common behaviour in mammals. Surprisingly, she says that no one had reported observations of yawning in elephant species until this 2017 study.

They saw yawning behaviour in Asian elephants in a zoo and decided to carry out this study with nine captive African elephants. The elephants were continuously recorded with video cameras under infrared illumination.

The elephants regularly yawned when they woke up. Some yawned more than others. They rarely yawned during the daytime. On one occasion one elephant yawned when they spotted another yawning (contagious yawning). This confirmed that yawning occurs in both African and Asian elephants and particularly occurs when they wake up.

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