Elephants never forget a friend, or an enemy
The memory of elephants is legendary, and for good reason. Elephants remember other elephants and individual humans for years — even decades —after they last saw them.
In one example, two elephants named Jenny and Shirley recognized each other after 23 years apart, even though they only knew each other for a few months. "Carol Buckley at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. ... reports that in 1999 resident elephant Jenny became anxious and could hardly be contained when introduced to newcomer Shirley, an Asian elephant. As the animals checked one another out with their trunks, Shirley, too, became animated and the two seemingly old friends had what appeared to be an emotional reunion. 'There was this euphoria,' sanctuary founder Buckley says. 'Shirley started bellowing, and then Jenny did, too. Both trunks were checking out each other's scars. I've never experienced anything that intense without it being aggression.'"
After doing some research, the caretakers found that these two elephants had been together for only a few months in a circus more than two decades earlier, but their memory of each other was crystal clear — based on how excited they were to reunite.
Elephants can also remember individual humans, including those who were kind and those who were not. In fact, elephants may even have a special alert call for "human" and use it as a way to alert family members to potential danger from people.
Elephants remember the way to watering holes even after a long span of time or distance. They also can remember the way to alternative watering or feeding areas should the need arise. This is one of the reasons it's crucial for younger elephants to spend plenty of time with older family members, so the knowledge is passed down and they'll be able to find their own way when they are adults.