Feeds

Who here needs to explain things to ELEPHANTS?

Not so Dumbo, pachyderm gesture study reveals

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Next time you're trying to convey an idea to an elephant, it may well help to simply point to things, according to a new study. This won't always work with other species - including our close relatives the great apes - but the brainy pachyderm will, erm, get the point straight away.

"By showing that African elephants spontaneously understand human pointing, without any training to do so, we have 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," says Richard Byrne of the University of St Andrews.

Byrne notes that elephants are part of an ancient African tradiation of animals, including the hyrax, golden mole, aardvark, and manatee. Though he doesn't suggest that aardvarks et al will be similarly apt pupils on pointing.

"What elephants share with humans is that they live in an elaborate and complex network in which support, empathy, and help for others are critical for survival," says the prof. "It may be only in such a society that the ability to follow pointing has adaptive value, or, more generally, elephant society may have selected for an ability to understand when others are trying to communicate with them, and they are thus able to work out what pointing is about when they see it."

Byrne and his colleague Anna Smet were studying tourist elephants near Victoria Falls, in southern Africa (that is the pachyderms gave rides to tourists, they weren't just there for a laugh). The animals were trained to follow certain vocal commands, but they weren't accustomed to pointing.

"Of course, we always hoped that our elephants would be able to learn to follow human pointing, or we'd not have carried out the experiments," Smet says. "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 full scientific details are available in the latest issue of Current Biology, here. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.