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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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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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To: almcbean
They also know what “ungawa” means.
Let's not forget "kreegah", "bundolo" and other Tarzan quotes :>)
41 posted on 10/14/2013 10:08:12 AM PDT by dainbramaged (Joe McCarthy was right.)
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To: WKUHilltopper

Maybe, but squirrels do not understand pointing. If I toss a squirrel a peanut, and he doesn’t see where it landed, my pointing at it doesn’t clue him in at all. He’ll still search around randomly trying to sniff out where it went.


42 posted on 10/14/2013 10:11:56 AM PDT by Boogieman
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To: Kip Russell
One usually doesn't see "Great Flood" and "legitmate archaeology" in the same conversation...

Yep, but even in legitimate archaeology they recognize the Mediterranean filled abruptly when the natural dam at Gibraltar broke, the abrupt flooding of the Black Sea when the natural dam at the Bosphorus broke, the formation of the Scab-lands when the ice dam for lake Missoula broke, and the climate shift when the glaciers retreated enough to drain the Great Lakes region down the St Lawrence rather than the Mississippi.

Not to mention the world wide 300 ft sea level rise at the end of the last Ice Age that flooded places like Sundaland and what is now the English Channel.

43 posted on 10/14/2013 10:13:01 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

Too bad we couldn’t point to the right and have the GOP elephant understand.


44 posted on 10/14/2013 10:13:54 AM PDT by Oatka (This is America. Assimilate or evaporate.)
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To: null and void

My elephant never plays fetch. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand.

He just doesn’t want to play fetch.


45 posted on 10/14/2013 10:14:06 AM PDT by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: Boogieman

Your squirrel just doesn’t want to play fetch.


46 posted on 10/14/2013 10:15:03 AM PDT by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: Kip Russell

Reread the story. Both groups were maintaining continuity, but from opposite viewpoints. The Church had records going back several cycles.

Also the original short story is different from the expanded novel.

It wasn’t fundamentally all that different from the current situation where both science and the Bible seek to explain everything. Odd convergences happen...


47 posted on 10/14/2013 10:18:30 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: fungoking
Note to self, never flip off an elephant.

I seem to remember that elephant that went crazy in Hawaii a few years back, killing everybody he could.

Elephant, Hawaii, Obama,...say...

I wonder if Obama had gestured to the elephant moments before the attack.

48 posted on 10/14/2013 10:18:35 AM PDT by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: null and void
Yep. I'm open to such evidence being found. Until then, it's just speculative fiction/fantasy.

In Stephen Baxter's fairly recent novel, "Evolution" (highly recommended, BTW), one chapter entitled "The Hunters of Pangaea" posits a stone-age civilization of humanoid dinosaurs, but they don't have enough of an impact on the environment to be noticed by humans, 145 million years later. Quoting from the book:

The whole of the orniths’ rise and fall was contained in a few thousand years, a thin slice of time compared to the eighty million years the dinosaur empire would yet persist. They made tools only of perishable materials — wood, vegetable fiber, leather. They never discovered metals, or learned how to shape stone. They didn’t even build fires, which might have left hearths. Their stay had been too brief; the thin strata would not preserve their inflated skulls. When they were gone the orniths would leave no trace for human archaeologists to ponder, none but the puzzle of the great sauropods’ abrupt extinction.

When asked whether some of the strange species he invented for the book actually existed, he answered essentially, "Of course not".

Fun to read about, though!

49 posted on 10/14/2013 10:19:57 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

Ooooooo! I gotta read that one!


50 posted on 10/14/2013 10:21:46 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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