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article imageElephants get straight to the point

By Tim Sandle     Oct 12, 2013 in Environment
Biologists have demonstrated that elephants can use human pointing cues to find hidden food. This means that, other than dogs, elephants are the only animals to understand human gestures.
The research, reported by the New York Times, indicates that African elephants can understand a human’s point towards an object about as well as a human toddler.
The researchers worked with a group of 11 captive elephants, which had been trained to give humans rides at a safari park in Zimbabwe. To demonstrate their suspicions the biologists hid food in one of two five-gallon buckets and then indicated to the elephants where the food was by pointing and looking back and forth from the bucket containing the food to the elephant until it made a choice.
The elephants chose the correct bucket on average 68 percent of the time. In comparison, human 12-month-olds have an average success rate of about 73 percent. In control trials, where the researchers did not gesture as to which bucket contained food, the elephants chose the bucket containing the food only 46.7 percent of the time, a rate close to 50:50 and considered no better than chance.
What is remarkable about the comprehension of elephants is that even chimpanzees do not understand such gesture, according to the BBC. The researchers suggest that their findings might explain how elephants have successfully been tamed.
The research was conducted by Anna Smet and Richard Byrne of the University of St. Andrews in the U.K. and the findings have been published in the journal Current Biology. The paper is titled "African Elephants Can Use Human Pointing Cues to Find Hidden Food."
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