The field of animal cognition has grown steadily for nearly four decades, but the primary focus has centered on easily kept lab animals of varying cognitive capacity, including rodents, birds and primates. Elephants (animals not easily kept in a laboratory) are generally thought of as highly social, cooperative, intelligent animals, yet few studies—with the exception of long-term behavioral field studies—have been conducted to directly support this assumption. In fact, there has been remarkably little cognitive research conducted on Asian (Elephas maximus) or African (Loxodonta africana or L. cyclotis) elephants. Here, we discuss the opportunity and rationale for conducting such research on elephants in zoological facilities, and review some of the recent developments in the field of elephant cognition, including our recent study on mirror self-recognition in E. maximus. Zoo Biol 28:1–13, 2009.