Do elephants really never forget?

Elephants are incredible creatures. As the largest land mammals on earth, they show a wide range of behavioural and emotional patterns in their up-to-60-year lifespans.

They grieve over the bodies of dead herd members, and can even recognise their own reflections in a mirror. 

And, then of course, there's the old saying: “elephants never forget.” 

While it may be an exaggeration, there's more truth to it than you might realise. 

In the wild, an elephant’s memory is key to its survival — and its herd’s. 

Each herd has a matriarchal structure, with one older female in charge. Then, when younger males in the group mature to around 14-years-old, they will leave the herd to roam solo, or occasionally form groups with other males. 

Proof of elephants' long memories lies in their behaviour. When they are confronted with an unfamiliar elephant, matriarchs will huddle in defensive positions because they realise that those elephants could pose a threat to the herd's safety. 

Elephants do not have the greatest eyesight in the animal kingdom, but they never forget a face.

And they don't just remember companions they've spent long stretches of time with either. 

A pair of captive elephants have shown that these animals can recognise other friendly elephants, even when they had only spent short periods of time together.

So why do elephants have such great memories? 

Scientists believe it probably has something to do with their large brains. An average adult elephant’s brain weighs approximately 11 pounds — the largest of all the land mammals!

In comparison, the brains of humans and bottle-nose dolphins — two other “smart” mammals — weigh about three pounds.