A recent study shows elephants may have the most discerning smell sense of all mammals in the world. Genome Research discovered African elephants have better olfactory senses than humans, canines, and mice.
Research shows elephants have a keen sense of smell
Scientists found the number of active olfactory genes in elephants is at 2,000. This number is twice the amount found in dogs and five times the number in humans. However, scientists are not exactly clear if there is a connection between having more genes and an improved sense of smell.
A researcher at the University of Tokyo’s department of biological chemistry, Yoshihito Niimura, explained why they don’t know exactly how the number of olfactory receptor genes relate to olfactory ability. It is widely known dogs have a strong sense of smell, but their number of genes is significantly smaller than mice. He further states dogs are best at smelling specific odors such as the scent of humans. These animals can easily detect low concentrations of odor molecules. Because of this, dogs have a sense of smell that trumps elephants.
How a strong sense of smell helps
Elephants, however, rely on a broader sense of smell. One older study shows that Asian elephants can differentiate similar odor molecules. This often comes in handy for the animals as elephants can recognize other elephants by the smell of their urine. There is the possibility that they use pheromones to communicate with other elephants.
Given the fact elephants have long trunks they use to interact with everything, it is not surprising they have such a keen sense of smell. A biology study from 2007 shows elephants had aggressive reactions to the colors and smells of the Maasai Tribe which is known for killing the animals. Elephants didn’t have the same negative response to the smells of the Kamba, a tribe that doesn’t hunt the animals.