The Elephant Batyr on a postage stamp of Kazakhstan
July 23, 1969|
Almaty Zoo, Almaty, USSR
|Died||August 26, 1993
Karaganda Zoo, Karaganda, Kazakhstan
Cause of death
|an overdose of soporific drugs|
|Known for||Intelligent use of 20 phrases|
Batyr (July 23, 1969 – August 26, 1993) was an Asian elephant claimed to be able to use a large amount of meaningful human speech. Living in a zoo in Kazakhstan of the Soviet Union period, Batyr was reported as having a vocabulary of more than 20 phrases. A recording of Batyr saying "Batyr is good", his name and using words such as "drink" and "give" was played on Kazakh state radio and on the First Programme of the Central Television of the USSR — Vremya, in 1980.
Born on July 23, 1969 at Almaty Zoo, Batyr lived his entire life in the Karaganda Zoo in Karaganda, of ex-USSR Kazakhstan. He died in 1993 having never seen or heard another elephant. Batyr was the offspring of once-wild Indian elephants (a subspecies of the Asian elephant). Batyr's mother "Palm" and father "Dubas" had been presented to Kazakhstan's Almaty Zoo by the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Batyr, whose name is a Turkic word meaning Dashing Equestrian, Man of Courage or Athlete, was first alleged to speak just before New Year's Day in the winter of 1977 when he was eight years old. Zoo employees were the first to notice his "speech", but he soon delighted zoo-goers at large by appearing to ask his attendants for water and regularly praising or (infrequently) chastising himself. By 1979, his fame as the "Speaking Elephant" had spread in the wake of various mass-media stories about his abilities, many containing considerable fabrication and wild conjecture. Batyr's case was also included in several books on animal behaviour, and in the proceedings of several scientific conferences. These developments drew a spate of zoo visitors, and brought the offer of an exchange—Batyr for a rare Bonobo—from the Czechoslovak Circus; an offer rejected by the zoo's employees.
Batyr, on the level of natural blares, [Batyr] said words (including human slang) by manipulating his trunk. By putting the trunk in his mouth, pressing a tip of the trunk to the bottom of the jaw and manipulating the tongue, [the elephant] said words. Besides, being in a corner of the cage (frequently at night) with the trunk softly hanging down, the elephant said words almost silently—a sound comparable with the sound of ultrasonic devices used against mosquitoes or the peep of mosquitoes, which human hearing hears well until approximately the age of 40. While pronouncing words, only the tip of the elephant's trunk is clamped inside [the mouth] and Batyr made subtle movements with a finger-shaped shoot on the trunk tip".
It is claimed that Batyr had a vocabulary of about 20 words in Russian and Kazakh languages. He reportedly imitated the sounds of other animals, and uttered short phrases including words of human slang. Batyr's lexicon list was compiled from audiovisual records, scientific researches and statistical data from eyewitnesses who heard the elephant themselves. Individual and disputable sounds were not considered. All other words as reported by the media were treated as fiction, second-hand and interpretations of retellings. For example, the phrase heard from Batyr as "water" was reported as "the elephant asked to drink".
Full list of words and phrases reported to have been spoken by Batyr:
Using trunk in mouth—
- "Баты́р" — Batyr — said abruptly;
- "Я" — I'm — very abruptly, in combination with his name, using long pronunciation so "I'm-Batyr", sounded almost together;
- "Ба́ты́р" — Batyr — thoughtfully-tenderly and lingeringly;
- "Батыр, Батыр, Батыр…" — Batyr, Batyr, Batyr — joyfully running in a cage;
- "Воды́" — Water — ask;
- "Хоро́ший" — Good — as in "good fellow";
- "Батыр хоро́ший" — Good Batyr;
- "Ой-ё-ёй" — Oh-yo — sonorously;
- "Дурак" — Fool — seldom and abruptly;
- "Плохой" — Bad — rarely;
- "Батыр плохой" — Bad Batyr — rarely;
- "Иди́" — Go;
- "Иди (на) хуй" — Go onto penis similar to the English expression — obscene Russian phrase; said first and only time during a telecast shooting;
- "Хуй" — Russian obscene word for penis — seldom and abruptly;
- "Ба́-ба" — short form of "babushka" — grandmother; short children's sound "ba";
- "Да́" — Yes;
- "Дай" — Give (me);
- "Дай-дай-дай" — Give, give, give;
- "Раз-два-три" — One, two, three — while dancing, turning and hopping.
- A human-like whistle;
- Human speech allegedly uttered at infrasonic and ultrasonic frequencies;
- A gnashing sound imitative of rubber or polyfoam (foam plastic) on glass;
- The peep of rats or mice;
- The bark of dogs;
- The natural blares of elephants.
From the press
Reporter Richard Beeston in Moscow, wrote the article "Soviet Zoo Has Talking Elephant"—
Batyr, a 10-year old Indian elephant at the Karaganda Zoo in soviet Kazakhstan, can say phrases like "Batyr is good" and verbs like "drink" and "give", a Moscow newspaper reported yesterday. It's said that a recording of its voice was heard recently on Kazakh state radio. "He just pushes his trunk into his mouth and starts talking," said the deputy director of the zoo, Mr Boris Kosinsky. He told a correspondent from the Young Communist League newspaper that it all began three years ago when a startled night watchman reported that he had heard the elephant talking to itself —The Daily Telegraph, 9th April 1980.
- Scientific conference, Agricultural Institute, Tselinograd, in Kazakhstan, 1983–1989
- The International Practical Science conference for the anniversary of Moscow Zoo, in Russia, 1984
- The International Practical Science conference for the anniversary of the Almaty Zoo, in Kazakhstan, 1987
- The International Practical Science conference in Tallinn, Estonia, 1989
- The International zoological conference; Institute of Zoology — Academy of Science, Ukraine, 1989
- The International Practical Science conference for the 125 anniversary of Leningrad Zoo, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 1990
- The True History or Who is Talking? An Elephant!" Dr. A. Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff 1979-1993 ISBN 0-9721266-0-0
- Reincarnation-Перевоплощение',' Dr. A. Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff 2001 ISBN 0-9721266-6-X
- Speaking Animals, A. Dubrov 2001 ISBN 5-87969-086-5
- Speaking Birds and Animals, O. Silaeva, V. Ilyichev, A. Dubrov 2005 ISBN 5-94429-016-1
- Student documentary film: Who speaks? The elephant… — VGIK — Moscow (USSR)
- Audio recording of Batyr's voice by scientist and writer Dr. A. Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff (1979–1983)
- Alex (parrot)
- Talking birds
- Talking animal
- Koko (gorilla)
- Washoe (chimpanzee)
- Animal language
- Sieveking, Paul. "Conversing cows and eloquent elephants". fortunecity.com. Retrieved 4 August 2011.[dead link]
- "The family tree of Batyr". elephant.se. Elephant Encyclopadia. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- "Biographies". baza.vgd.ru. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- "Aleksey Pogrebnoj-Alexandroff". peoples.ru. Retrieved 4 August 2011.
- "The Scene in the Nation and the World", Philadelphia Inquirer, Sep 3, 1993
- "Talking elephant silenced forever", Washington Times, Sep 3, 1993