Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

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
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-89 next last
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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 21 | View Replies]

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
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

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...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 35 | View Replies]

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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 42 | View Replies]

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...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 40 | View Replies]

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.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 36 | View Replies]

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)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 34 | View Replies]

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...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 49 | View Replies]

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.”

How exactly would we mistake man-made, refined metals and alloys for natural ores?


51 posted on 10/14/2013 10:23:08 AM PDT by Boogieman
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

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

Your point about maintaining continuity is well-taken, although my point was that the scientists were trying to preserve civilization and technology, something the Cult had no interest in...they were simply mystics trying maintain their religion (a point of view Asimov wasn't particularly fond of; the scientists are presented positively, whereas the members of the Cult are wild-eyed fantatics).

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

I've never read the novel, only the short story.

52 posted on 10/14/2013 10:26:06 AM PDT by Kip Russell (Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss. ---Robert A. Heinlein)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 47 | View Replies]

To: Boogieman
How exactly would we mistake man-made, refined metals and alloys for natural ores?

Exactly so. Certain metals (chromium, nickle, etc.) would still be present in far greater concentrations than any natural ore.

53 posted on 10/14/2013 10:28:47 AM PDT by Kip Russell (Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss. ---Robert A. Heinlein)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 51 | View Replies]

To: Boogieman
Add enough oxygen, chlorine and just plain dirt and slime and it would eventually look "natural".

Especially if you are convinced that any metal ores you find simply have to be natural!

No one, and I mean no one, thinks it the slightest bit odd that the iron ore deposits in India had precisely the amount of vanadium need to make Damascus steel.

54 posted on 10/14/2013 10:31:40 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 51 | View Replies]

To: Kip Russell

Nickle iron? Ever been to Sudbury?


55 posted on 10/14/2013 10:33:24 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 53 | View Replies]

To: Kip Russell
I've never read the novel, only the short story.

You read it, I'll read Evolution, sounds like a fair deal to me!

56 posted on 10/14/2013 10:35:55 AM PDT by null and void (I'm betting on an Obama Trifecta: A Nobel Peace Prize, an Impeachment, AND a War Crimes Trial...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 52 | View Replies]

To: null and void
Nickle iron? Ever been to Sudbury?

It's my understanding that the concentrations of heavy metals that would result from the remains of a cluster of skyscrapers such as those present in a major city are far great than even a nickle-rich area such as Sudbury.

My understanding could be wrong, of course...

57 posted on 10/14/2013 10:40:21 AM PDT by Kip Russell (Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss. ---Robert A. Heinlein)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 55 | View Replies]

To: null and void
You read it, I'll read Evolution, sounds like a fair deal to me!

Deal!

(after I finish Baxter's latest novel, "Proxima", which I just started)

58 posted on 10/14/2013 10:41:58 AM PDT by Kip Russell (Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss. ---Robert A. Heinlein)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 56 | View Replies]

To: null and void

“Add enough oxygen, chlorine and just plain dirt and slime and it would eventually look “natural”.”

No, it really wouldn’t.


59 posted on 10/14/2013 10:58:50 AM PDT by Boogieman
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

To: Kip Russell

Run by libs, everything was renewable, natural fiber and biodegradable. Government shut down and they disappeared without leaving a trace.


60 posted on 10/14/2013 11:50:54 AM PDT by dangerdoc (see post #6)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-8081-89 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson