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Elephants may understand pointing

Oct. 12, 2013 at 5:38 PM   |   Comments

FIFE, Scotland, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- A study by researchers at Scotland's University of St. Andrews found elephants understand pointing by humans without being trained.

Dr. Richard W. Byrne and graduate student Anna Smet studied 11 elephants in Zimbabwe for two months, reaching the conclusion that elephants understand pointing, The New York Times reported Friday.

The elephants were given a simple pointing test, Smet said. She would put fruit in one of two buckets, unknown to the elephant, then point at the one with the fruit in it.

The elephants picked the right bucket 67.5 percent of the time, Smet said.

Primates and other animals have failed similar tests, the newspaper noted.

Diana Reiss, an expert on elephant cognition at Hunter College, raised questions about whether the elephants, which were employed at an elephant-back safari attraction, learned how to interpret pointing by their handlers.

"In these elephant camps such opportunities can easily go unnoticed by their human caretakers," Reiss said.

Byrne and Smet said they plan to address this issue and investigate whether wild elephants can point to each other.

"It makes us want to revisit visual signals by elephants for elephants," Smet said.

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