Do you speak Korean? If you so, then you probably can hear that this elephant is saying, “Choah,” the Korean word for “good,” at the behest of one his human caretakers at the Everland Zoo in South Korea. The elephant’s name is Koshik, and he has learned to mimic human speech by sticking his trunk into his mouth and modulating his oral chamber. “He’s invented a new way of sound production to match his vocalisations with his human companions,” said the University of Vienna’s Dr. Angela Stoeger, who just published a study of Koshik in the scientific journal Current Biology. As the BBC’s Rebecca Morelle reports, Koshik can also say the Korean words “anja” (sit down), “nuwo” (lie down), “aniya” (no), and “annyeong,” which means “hello.” But I listened to a recording of him saying that last one, and I think it sounds more like he is saying the English word “annoying.” Which would make sense, in response to a human standing by his cage repeating the same five words over and over again.
A couple weeks ago, we heard about NOC, a beluga whale at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, who has also learned to mimic human voices. He sounds like a child playing a kazoo, but once told a diver to “get out” of his tank. Which, yeah, that’s what I’d say, too, if a found some weird-looking person in a mask swimming around my bedroom. (Well, actually, that depends on the mask…)
But I think it’d be cool to get Koshik and NOC together and leave a hidden recording device (I mean, we’re already keeping these huge, majestic wild creatures captive in tiny enclosures; it’s not like we can claim to be concerned with their right to privacy) so we can listen in on a their private conversation.
I’m imagining it might go like this:
Koshik: I wish I could die.
NOC: Me, too.
Koshik: Hey, do you like King Crimson?
NOC: Hmm. I don’t know. I’m not that familiar with their stuff. I remember when I visited Bowdoin college in Maine, when I was looking at schools to go to, I stayed with this guy Matt, who was the older brother of an old friend of mine named Pete. Matt lived in a fraternity—though, it was a hippie fraternity, it being Maine and all, so it was co-ed and everything. It was in this creepy old Victorian house, and he took me to smoke pot in this room that was like their special pot-smoking room, and the place was a mess of tapestries and frayed counces and beer bottles and melted down candles and everything like you’d expect it be. But one whole wall—and it was a huge room—was painted with a mural of the album cover for King Crimson’s first album In the Court of the Crimson King. With that crazy red screaming face. It was really well done. Jesus, it was so freaky. But totally awesome, as far as a place to smoke pot. It was really one of the coolest wall murals I’ve ever seen. I wonder if it’s still there? I hope so.
Koshik: Hahaha. That’s awesome. College.
NOC: Yeah. They rejected me. Bowdoin, I mean, after I applied. I’m pretty sure the fraternities there were not allowed to reject anybody.
Koshik: That’s kinda better, if you ask me. I think fraternities and sororities kinda suck.
Koshik: Hey, but listen to this song. It’s from 1981, after king Crimson returned from a seven-year hiatus. Really, it was like a whole new band. Only Bill Buford and Robert Fripp remained from the original line-up. It’s from the album “Discipline.”
NOC: Oh, man! Yes! I love that song! Wow. I haven’t that in forever. WHTG used to play it, this radion station in Long Branch I used to listen to in high school. Huh! That’s King Crimson?! I think I used to always think it was the Talking Heads.
Koshik: Yeah, the new singer they got, Adrien Belew—
NOC: Oh, the guitarist. He used to play with Bowie, too.
Koshik: Right. Both he and Fripp were playing a lot with David Byrne and the Talking Heads around that time. So, there were obviously a lot of ideas being shared.
NOC: Huh. Yeah. Man, that’s a great song! Thanks.
Koshik: Yeah. I found it on YouTube after Googling myself.