By Ryan Morrison For Mailonline
Published: 10:56 BST, 3 September 2020 | Updated: 12:57 BST, 3 September 2020
Elephants can 'catch a yawn' from humans they know well, according to a new study that found they responded to both faked and actual human yawns.
Researcher Zoe Rossman from the University of New Mexico has been working with a herd of captive elephants at the Knysna elephant park in South Africa.
Handlers yawned in front of African elephants and found they were more likely to yawn if they saw a human do so than any other type of human mouth movement.
This is the first time a species not closely related or linked to humans such as dogs and chimpanzees have been seen 'catching a yawn' from a human.
Researcher Zoe Rossman from the University of New Mexico has been working with a herd of captive elephants at the Knysna elephant park in South Africa
Spontaneous yawning is common across all vertebrate classes, contagious yawning is less common and has been observed only in a few species of animal.
Rossman and colleagues worked with handlers at the Knysna elephant park where they take in orphaned and rescued elephants and give them a safe space to live.
She said elephants have a long and complex history with humans despite not being domesticated and so they were a logical next step to see if they could catch a yawn.
To see if her theory that elephants, as highly intelligent creatures, could catch a yawn, Rossman watched how they reacted to their handlers.
The move to investigate whether elephants can catch a yawn from a human came off the back of a 2017 study by Rossman of the same herd of elephants.
In the earlier study she found the first evidence that the large mammals could catch a yawn from one another.
Ten captive African elephants, most of whom had been previously studied, were observed over 13 nights for evidence of contagious yawning from humans.
Keepers performed a series of staged yawns, gapes without yawning, real yawns and no mouth movements at all - finding elephants were more likely to break into a yawn if their handler yawned or