In 2006, keepers at Seoul’s Everland amusement park/zoo complex were surprised to hear a voice coming from inside the elephant enclosure. Kosik, a 16-year-old elephant, had learned to talk (in Korean of course) by putting its trunk in its mouth and mimicking the words it heard from its caretakers: “yes,” “no,” “lie down,” “sit down,” and four other phrases.
Perhaps surprisingly, Kosik is not the first talking elephant on record. In the 1970s, a pachyderm called Batyr kept in Kazhakstan’s Karaganda Zoo also learned to speak (in Russian), supposedly stringing together phrases like “Batyr is good” as well as verbs like “drink” and “give.” He also appeared on Soviet television, once swearing on a live broadcast.
Though it has been shown that elephants do indeed have a sense of self awareness and are intelligent problem solvers and tool users, the question of whether the elephants are capable of expressive speech (as opposed to straight mimicry) has yet to be fully resolved. In the meantime, visitors flock to Kosik’s enclosure, hoping to catch a few words.
Know Before You Go
From exit 1 of Yangjae Stn. (Subway Line 3) get bus 1500.
From Gangnam Stn. (Subway Line 2, Exit 6) take bus 5002 .