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Shin Nam-sik, a veterinary professor at Seoul National University who has seen Koshik, agreed with researchers’ finding that the elephant was able to mimic human speech.

“In Koshik’s case, the level of intimacy between him and his trainer was the key factor that made the elephant want to sound like a human,” Shin said.

Kim Jong-gab, Koshik’s chief trainer, said the elephant was timid for a male when he first came to Everland Zoo, so trainers often slept in the same area with him. Kim thinks that contact helped Koshik feel closer to humans.

Kim said he has another phrase he wants to teach Koshik: “Saranghae,” or “I love you.”