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Wednesday 12, April

Berlin Elephant makes headlines for peeling bananas

Female Asian elephant Pang Pha is making international headlines after learning to peel bananas.

One of the Berlin zoo’s Asian elephants has picked up an unusual skill. Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

Wednesday 12, April

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This is bananas: Berlin Elephant goes viral for peeling skills

The Berlin zoo has a new star. Female Asian elephant Pang Pha has caught the world’s attention for her very particular set of skills: she peels her bananas before she eats them. However, just because she knows how to peel a banana, doesn’t mean she’s happy to gobble up any of them. Pang Pha has discriminating taste, she only bothers to peel and eat the banana if it’s ripe.

She only bothers to peel and eat the banana if it’s ripe

The researchers whose scientific paper revealed this behaviour noticed while she would occasionally peel the fruit, she was also likely to discard them without showing much interest. At first, they couldn’t work out why but then they began to group the bananas into five categories: green, green-yellow, yellow, yellow-brown and brown. That’s when they discovered that Pang Pha only bothered to peel the bananas if they were ripe enough. While she never peeled green or green-yellow bananas, she’s remove the skin of 82 percent of yellow-brown bananas and the majority of the brown fruit.

A figure from the scientific paper outlining Pang Pha’s skill. Image: Kaufmann et al., Current Biology

This is extremely rare behaviour in elephants, both in captivity and in the wild, and the researchers believe that Pha picked up the behaviour from observing it in her human captors. She is actually faster at peeling bananas than most humans, although her method is quite different: she breaks the banana is half, shakes out and collets the pulp and discards the peel.