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Elephants Understand Human Gestures
Scientific Computing ^ | October 10, 2013 | University of St Andrews

Posted on 10/14/2013 8:38:08 AM PDT by null and void


Elephants understand humans in a way most other animals don’t, according to the latest research from the University of St Andrews. The new study, published October 10, 2013 by Current Biology, found that elephants are the only wild animals to understand human pointing without any training to do so.

The researchers, Anna Smet and Professor Richard Byrne from the University’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience, set out to test whether African elephants could learn to follow pointing — and were surprised to find them responding successfully from the first trial. 

They said, “In our study we found that African elephants spontaneously understand human pointing, without any training to do so. This has shown that the ability to understand pointing is not uniquely human but has also evolved in a lineage of animal very remote from the primates.”

Elephants are part of an ancient African radiation of animals, including the hyrax, golden mole, aardvark and manatee. Elephants share with humans an elaborate and complex living network in which support, empathy and help for others are critical for survival. The researchers say that it may be only in such a society that the ability to follow pointing has adaptive value.

Professor Byrne explained, “When people want to direct the attention of others, they will naturally do so by pointing, starting from a very young age. Pointing is the most immediate and direct way that humans have for controlling others’ attention.

“Most other animals do not point, nor do they understand pointing when others do it. Even our closest relatives, the great apes, typically fail to understand pointing when it’s done for them by human carers; in contrast, the domestic dog, adapted to working with humans over many thousands of years and sometimes selectively bred to follow pointing, is able to follow human pointing — a skill the dogs probably learn from repeated, one-to-one interactions with their owners.”

The St Andrews’ researchers worked with a group of elephants who give rides to tourists in Zimbabwe. The animals were trained to follow certain vocal commands, but they weren’t accustomed to pointing.

Anna Smet explained, “We always hoped that our elephant subjects — whose ‘day job’ is taking tourists for elephant-back rides near Victoria Falls — would be able to learn to follow human pointing.

“But what really surprised us is that they did not apparently need to learn anything. Their understanding was as good on the first trial as the last, and we could find no sign of learning over the experiment.”

The researchers say that it is possible that elephants may do something akin to pointing as a means of communicating with each other, using their long trunk.

Anna continued, “Elephants do regularly make prominent trunk gestures, for instance when one individual detects the scent of a dangerous predator, but it remains to be seen whether those motions act in elephant society as ‘points.’”

The findings help explain how humans have been able to rely on wild-caught elephants as work animals, for logging, transport, or war, for thousands of years.

Professor Byrne explained, “It has long been a puzzle that one animal, the elephant, doesn’t seem to need domestication in order to learn to work effectively with humans. They have a natural capacity to interact with humans even though — unlike horses, dogs and camels — they have never been bred or domesticated for that role. Our findings suggest that elephants seem to understand us humans in a way most other animals don’t.”


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: agriculture; animalhusbandry; elephants; godsgravesglyphs; thapsus
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Professor Byrne explained, “It has long been a puzzle that one animal, the elephant, doesn’t seem to need domestication in order to learn to work effectively with humans. They have a natural capacity to interact with humans even though — unlike horses, dogs and camels — they have never been bred or domesticated for that role.

Never Professor? Never?

I'll buy not since the last Ice Age, but not never.

We and they could well have had quite the relationship during and prior to then.

Not much evidence of a civilization left after everything got scraped flat and covered by a 300 ft sea level rise, but perhaps traces linger in our genes...

1 posted on 10/14/2013 8:38:08 AM PDT by null and void
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To: null and void

Dogs inherently understand the human pointing gesture too.


2 posted on 10/14/2013 8:41:18 AM PDT by DManA
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To: null and void

So what the hell good is that tidbit of what they call knowledge. It’s still “ring the bell” cr**.


3 posted on 10/14/2013 8:43:46 AM PDT by Sacajaweau
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To: null and void
Not much evidence of a civilization left after everything got scraped flat and covered by a 300 ft sea level rise, but perhaps traces linger in our genes...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware of the slightest evidence of any technological civilization prior to the most recent glacial period which lasted from roughly 110,000 to 10,000 years ago.

4 posted on 10/14/2013 8:44:06 AM PDT by Kip Russell (Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss. ---Robert A. Heinlein)
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To: DManA

The article does talk about dogs point-following abilities.


5 posted on 10/14/2013 8:45:46 AM PDT by eclecticEel (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: 7/4/1776 - 3/21/2010)
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To: null and void

Elephants can mourn their dead too, should we elevate them above humans, NO, but we should elevate them above food animals.

Elephants should only be killed if they “become bad” and endanger human lives, other wise we should preserve them as they are of child like intelligence.

Same goes for the great apes and dolphins.

But we should still eat cows and gazelles


6 posted on 10/14/2013 8:46:30 AM PDT by GraceG
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To: DManA
"Dogs inherently understand the human pointing gesture too."

Sometimes I wonder how these characters got PhDs in elephontology (and $ 150K/yr. tenured positions) and then come up with the most inane findings. You could have saved the country millions by the above remark. Bet you didn't get a grant, either.

7 posted on 10/14/2013 8:47:24 AM PDT by Dutchboy88
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To: eclecticEel
They mention dogs but they are wrong:

a skill the dogs probably learn from repeated, one-to-one interactions with their owners.”

No. experiments show they understand it inherently.

8 posted on 10/14/2013 8:50:19 AM PDT by DManA
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To: null and void

Yeah?? You run up on a squirrel with a raised stick, they’ll know what that means too.


9 posted on 10/14/2013 8:51:50 AM PDT by WKUHilltopper (And yet...we continue to tolerate this crap...)
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To: Kip Russell

Nor am I. At least beyond tales of Atlantis and Mu. I’m not willing to totally rule out the possibility, though.

And I’m also assuming that the pyramids really are only 4500 years old.

Still, how much recognizable evidence would there be of a society that was so advanced that everything they built and used was biodegradable and recyclable, after an intervening ice age and major sea level fluctuations?

Keep in mind that so 80% of the world’s population lives within 200 ft of sea level and that sea level rose 300 feet after the last ice age...


10 posted on 10/14/2013 8:53:14 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
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To: GraceG

Agreed.


11 posted on 10/14/2013 8:54:28 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
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To: Kip Russell
There is some compelling evidence that the Spinx in Egypt is 12,000+ years old.

It is my understanding that civilization requires agriculture, and agriculture started (in the west) about 7,000 B.C. so if the Spinx really was built 10,000 B.C. who built it? And then there are the Great Pyramids, again there are good arguments that those could not have been built by a (mostly) stone age people, re the 2500 BC Egyptians.

12 posted on 10/14/2013 8:55:06 AM PDT by jpsb (Believe nothing until it has been officially denied)
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To: null and void

Whenever I point, my cat comes over to smell the end of my finger.


13 posted on 10/14/2013 8:56:16 AM PDT by palmer (Obama = Carter + affirmative action)
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To: DManA
No. experiments show they understand it inherently.

Some do, some don't.

I was never able to get our otherwise brilliant Cairn to look anywhere but the end of my finger.

14 posted on 10/14/2013 8:56:23 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
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To: null and void

My old dog surely does, and I never trained him to do anything but lay down and sleep.


15 posted on 10/14/2013 8:59:15 AM PDT by DManA
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To: DManA

What breed?


16 posted on 10/14/2013 8:59:49 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
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To: DManA
A *ahem* pointer?
17 posted on 10/14/2013 9:00:43 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
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To: null and void

And what do you do with elephants when they are overpopulated and eating everything in sight? Regulating hunting of wild elephants provides meat for the locals, an infusions of cash from the trophy hunters, and maintains a healthy and stable population.


18 posted on 10/14/2013 9:03:16 AM PDT by kickstart ("A gun is a tool. It is only as good or as bad as the man who uses it" . Alan Ladd in 'Shane')
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To: null and void

Half bichon, half cocker.


19 posted on 10/14/2013 9:07:32 AM PDT by DManA
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To: null and void

Elephants Understand Human Gestures

Elephant in Missouri Crushes Zookeeper, Kills Him

Homicide?
20 posted on 10/14/2013 9:09:13 AM PDT by Bratch
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