Study: Elephants understand human gestures

New research from the University of St. Andrews reveals the animals are receptive to physical commands

By Alexander Besant

Published October 12, 2013 3:00PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global PostAfrican elephants understand us like few other animals do.

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews found that these elephants were able to understand human gestures directing them to certain places.

In this case, the elephants were pointed to hidden snacks, which were put in nearby containers.

They found that 68 percent of the time the elephants wandered over to the containers to have a look at what the fuss was about.

In contrast, a one-year-old human will do so 73 percent of time.

''Our results showed that elephants spontaneously attend to and correctly interpret human … gestures without extensive prior learning opportunities - the only non-human species so far to show this ability,'' said study co-author Richard Byrne.

The researchers believe that there is something innate about the gesture of pointing in elephants (maybe with their trunk?).

''We suggest that the most plausible account of our elephants' ability to interpret even subtle human pointing gestures as communicative is that human pointing …. taps into elephants' natural communication system,'' said Byrne.

Animals reacting to human gestures are much debated in the scholarly community who ponder whether it's because domesticated dogs and cats live so close to humans or maybe it is something else within them.

The study was conducted in an elephant rehabilitation center in Zimbabwe.

It was published in the journal Current Biology.

Alexander Besant

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Animal Intelligence Animals Elephants University Of St. Andrews Zimbabwe