Big Picture: Making a trunk call

Photo by Think Elephants International featuring Dr Joshua Plotnik. ‘Big picture’ ideas? E-mail [email protected]

This is a live Skype session from Thailand to a middle school in New York City, with elephants. It’s all part of a pilot programme from non-profit organisation Think Elephants International, which focuses on bringing scientific research into classrooms.

Its founder and CEO is Dr Joshua Plotnik, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, and the Head of Research at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in Thailand. ‘We’ve engaged young students in science by having them participate in experiments themselves,’ he tells us. ‘In fact, the students at this school were recently co-authors on a paper we published ( It was the culmination of a three-year endeavour to link animal behaviour and cognition work
in the field with an after-school curriculum we’ve developed to give young students new opportunities in science and conservation.’

Dr Plotnik studies the evolution of intelligence in elephants. ‘I’ve been working in Thailand for the past six years, and focus primarily on how elephants “see” their natural world through different sensory modalities, and social cognition – how they think about their social relationships with others. Our recent work has focused on mirror self-recognition and cooperation, and we are now beginning to investigate questions in behavioural economics.’

For more information on the project and Plotnik’s work, see

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