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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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To: null and void

They also know what “ungawa” means. Pretty smart critters.


21 posted on 10/14/2013 9:10:06 AM PDT by almcbean
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To: null and void
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?

The evidence would be enormous.

Such a civilization wouldn't just spring up out of nowhere, going instantly from the Stone Age to 21st Century (at least) technology. It would take thousands of years and a population base of at least hundreds of millions of people. Such a civilization would leave worldwide evidence.

A trivial example: glass bottles, when buried, can last essentially unchanged for hundreds of thousands of years.

Another example: the amount of metal used in a modern city would leave traces in the soil and rock that could still be detected millions of years later. Even if your hypothetical city recycled to an extent that would make environmental activists giddy with joy, they still would have had cities in their past that didn't have the technology to do so.

If there had been a highly technological civilization prior to 10,000 years ago, we would have found traces (and more) of it by now.

22 posted on 10/14/2013 9:10:40 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; All
Check out this cute video of a baby elephant and his best friend, a Labrador.... here
23 posted on 10/14/2013 9:11:51 AM PDT by ken5050 (Benghazi investigation update: "The plot thickens, like Hillary Clinton's ankles.." (longfellow")
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To: DManA

Yup. All my dogs look at my finger.


24 posted on 10/14/2013 9:15:49 AM PDT by Cold Heart
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To: jpsb
There is some compelling evidence that the Spinx in Egypt is 12,000+ years old.

It's certainly not compelling as far as mainstream archaeology is concerned...!

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.

http://www.skepdic.com/pyramidiocy.html

Harsh, but fair.

25 posted on 10/14/2013 9:16:18 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: Kip Russell

The older cities would be mined for the metals, and the remaining traces after enough weathering could easily be taken as ore deposits.

Yes, there should be hard evidence, and yes, there are many OOPArts out there, and yes, we do try very hard to fit them into our current world view, or they get filed and forgotten.

Keep in mind that I am speculating, not advocating the certainty of an antediluvian society, but merely allowing the possibility that one could have existed, as yet undiscovered and/or unrecognized.

A post collapse religious fervor could even have gone to great efforts to eliminate every trace of any previous technology or civilization, no library of Alexandria, no statue of Buddha is immune.


26 posted on 10/14/2013 9:25:25 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: Cold Heart

My dog doesn’t look at my finger. He turns his head and look to where my finger is pointing.


27 posted on 10/14/2013 9:26:13 AM PDT by DManA
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To: Bratch
Would the gesture in this case be a middle finger?
28 posted on 10/14/2013 9:27:55 AM PDT by CrazyIvan (Obama phones= Bread and circuits.)
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To: null and void

Antediluvian isn’t the precise word I want, but if you’ll allow the water in the Great Flood to be frozen, it can be hammered in to place, filed flush, and painted to match...


29 posted on 10/14/2013 9:28:08 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: kickstart
And what do you do with elephants when they are overpopulated and eating everything in sight?

What do you do with humans when they are overpopulated and eating everything in sight?

30 posted on 10/14/2013 9:30:25 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
The older cities would be mined for the metals, and the remaining traces after enough weathering could easily be taken as ore deposits.

I'm skeptical that we could hide the evidence of our civilization from future archaeologists, even were we to devote an enormous effort in to doing so.

Yes, there should be hard evidence, and yes, there are many OOPArts out there, and yes, we do try very hard to fit them into our current world view, or they get filed and forgotten.

That's the first time I'd ever come across that term ("OOPArt").

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out-of-place_artifact

Keep in mind that I am speculating, not advocating the certainty of an antediluvian society, but merely allowing the possibility that one could have existed, as yet undiscovered and/or unrecognized.

One can't prove a negative, of course, but it strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely. And, as they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

A post collapse religious fervor could even have gone to great efforts to eliminate every trace of any previous technology or civilization, no library of Alexandria, no statue of Buddha is immune.

Shades of Asimov's "Nightfall"!

31 posted on 10/14/2013 9:34:41 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: Kip Russell

Hes talking about the last great flood. We all live in the regeneration of the last great catastrophe. This is the only answer to the question that science will not adress and has no way to explain.
Question....How did the oldest civilization on the planet (Sumer according to scientists) have all the arts, science, math, writing, medicine, agriculture, world maps, sea navigation, astronomy, pictures of the solar system, etc ?
Answer....they got it from the previous civilization.


32 posted on 10/14/2013 9:38:42 AM PDT by rwoodward ("god, guns and more ammo")
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To: DManA

You beat me to it!

Every dog I ever had automatically knew what pointing meant and knew it related to a direction.


33 posted on 10/14/2013 9:43:55 AM PDT by Beagle8U (Free Republic -- One stop shopping ....... It's the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: Kip Russell
I'm skeptical that we could hide the evidence of our civilization from future archaeologists, even were we to devote an enormous effort in to doing so.

Ours would be extraordinary difficult to hide. Stuff in Clarke orbits could still be there when we are no longer recognizable as our current species.

That's the first time I'd ever come across that term ("OOPArt").

FR, an opportunity to learn something every day...

And, as they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Yep. I'm open to such evidence being found. Until then, it's just speculative fiction/fantasy.

Shades of Asimov's "Nightfall"!

Opposite, really. In Nightfall the church tried to provide continuity.

A blend of militant islam and wacko environmentalism, with a leavening of Luddites, rage, and post collapse PTSD-like insanity wouldn't leave much behind.

34 posted on 10/14/2013 9:44:36 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: rwoodward
Hes talking about the last great flood.

One usually doesn't see "Great Flood" and "legitmate archaeology" in the same conversation...

Question....How did the oldest civilization on the planet (Sumer according to scientists) have all the arts, science, math, writing, medicine, agriculture, world maps, sea navigation, astronomy, pictures of the solar system, etc ? Answer....they got it from the previous civilization.

I have to call shenanigans on this one; are you seriously asserting that ancient Sumer had "pictures of the solar system" and world maps? As for some of the rest (arts, math, etc.) it doesn't require an antediluvian civilization. People (such as the Sumerians) were perfectly capable of inventing such things as writing on their own.

35 posted on 10/14/2013 9:49:36 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: null and void
Elephants Understand Human Gestures
______________________________________

Note to self, never flip off an elephant.

36 posted on 10/14/2013 9:53:56 AM PDT by fungoking (Tis a pleasure to live in the Ozarks)
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To: null and void; kickstart

“What do you do with humans when they are overpopulated and eating everything in sight?”

That one is too easy. Start a major war.

Next?


37 posted on 10/14/2013 9:54:19 AM PDT by Beagle8U (Free Republic -- One stop shopping ....... It's the Conservative Super WalMart for news .)
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To: null and void
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.

Maybe, or perhaps from other strategies.




38 posted on 10/14/2013 9:57:40 AM PDT by caveat emptor (!)
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To: Beagle8U

Sadly enough, elephants are to civilized for that...


39 posted on 10/14/2013 10:00:27 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
Opposite, really. In Nightfall the church tried to provide continuity.

Not so. In the short story, there was a group known as the Cult which used their scriptures to predict the Nightfall itself. While they were in fact correct, they didn't want to preserve civilization...that was the goal of a group of scientists.

40 posted on 10/14/2013 10:01:38 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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