The Loh Down On Science

Angry Elephants

What makes an elephant see red? The COLOR red.

What to wear to your next safari? Maybe not red.

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

and a word of advice on elephant anger management.

Elephants are notoriously aggressive toward the red-clothed Maasai people. The reason seemed simple: Maasai warriors spear elephants to demonstrate their virility. Pachyderms find that irksome.

But researchers from Scotland's University of St. Andrews wondered how the elephants ID their enemies.

To find out, they teamed up with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Nairobi for a sniff-and-see test. Elephants were presented with three red garments. The first was freshly-washed; the other two were imbued with the 5-day-without-a-bath odor of either a Maasai tribesman or a peaceful Kamba farmer.

The elephants ran further and faster after whiffing the Maasai clothes, and took much longer to chill out afterward.

The elephants were then shown either red clothing--favored by the Masai--or white clothing--the preference of the Kamba.

When the elephants SAW red--literally--they quickly turned threatening.

So, when picking a wardrobe for a safari, even after Labor Day? I'd go with white.


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