Monday, March 30, 2009

"I Would Like Another Peanut"


Batyr (1969-1993) was an Asian Elephant claimed to be able to use a large amount of meaningful human speech. Living in a zoo in Kazakhstan, Batyr was widely published as having a vocabulary of more than 20 phrases. A recording of Batyr saying "Batyr is good","Batyr is hungry" and using words such as "drink" and "give" was played on Kazakh state radio in 1980.

Like all cases of talking animals, claims are subject to the observer-expectancy effect - may be a meaningless form of mimicry, and are subject to fabrication for many reasons.

Born on July 23, 1969, he lived his entire life in the Karaganda Zoo in Karaganda, Kazakhstan. He died in 1993 having never seen or heard another elephant. Batyr was the offspring of once-wild Indian Elephants (a subspecies of the Asian Elephant). Batyr's mother "Palm" and father "Dubas" had been presented to Kazakhstan's Almaty Zoo by Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Batyr, whose name is a Turkic word meaning The Dashing Equestrian, The Man of Courage or The Athlete, was first alleged to speak just before New Year's Day in the winter of 1977. Zoo employees were the first to notice his "speech", but he soon delighted zoo-goers at large by appearing to ask his attendants for water and regularly praising (or, infrequently chastising) himself. By 1979, his fame as the "Speaking Elephant" had spread in the wake of various mass-media stories about his abilities. (Many of these contained considerable fabrication and wild conjecture.) Batyr's case was also included in several books on animal behaviour, and in the proceedings of several scientific conferences. These developments drew a spate of zoo visitors, and brought the offer of an exchange—Batyr for a rare Bonobo—from the Czechoslovak Circus; the offer was rejected by the zoo's employees.

A. N. Pogrebnoj-Aleksandroff, the doctor of sciences who studied Batyr's abilities and wrote many publications about him, said of the elephant:

«Batyr, on the level of natural blares, said the words (including a human slang) by manipulating a trunk. Having put the trunk in a mouth, pressing a tip of the trunk by the bottom of jaw and manipulating of tongue, said words. Besides, being in a corner of the cage (quite often at the nights) with the hanging down and weakened his trunk the elephant said words very silently — that sound is comparable with a sound of ultrasonic devices against mosquitoes or as peep of the mosquitoes, which human hearing well hears to approximately 40-year-old age. During pronouncing of words, only the tip of the trunk of the elephant has been clamped inside and Batyr made insignificant movements by a finger-shaped shoot on the trunk tip».

Various audiovisual recordings were made during Pogrebnoj-Aleksandroff's studies of Batyr;some of these have been transferred to Russia's Moscow State University for further study.

Batyr died in 1993 when zookeepers accidentally gave him an overdose of soporific drugs.

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