Koshik’s vocabulary isn’t very extensive, but the five words of Korean he knows is pretty impressive.
The 22-year-old Asian elephant started imitating his trainers on his own, some researchers say as an effort to bond with them while he spent seven years without any other elephants at Everland Zoo in South Korea.
There are vast differences between the vocal system of elephants and humans, so Koshik has to improvise. By putting his trunk in his mouth, he’s taught himself to vary his sounds into the five words.
So what exactly can Koshik say? The first word, naturally, is “hello.”
(That’s “annyong” in Korean. How polite!) He’s also learned the other commands his trainers use: Sit down (anja), lie down (nuo), good (choah) and no (aniya).
Though it doesn’t happen often, there are plenty of animals that mimic human speech – parrots, beluga whales and occasionally the odd harbor seal. But unlike many of those animals, Koshik actually knows what his words mean.