Elephants require zero instruction to understand human pointing, according to a new study that demonstrates just how smart these large mammals are.
To put this into perspective, many great apes fail to understand human pointing, and they are genetically closer to us.
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The study, published in the latest Current Biology, not only demonstrates how smart elephants are, but it also indicates that pointing is in their visual "vocabulary" too.
"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," Richard Byrne of the University of St Andrews, who worked on the study, said in a press release.
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He noted that elephants are part of an ancient African radiation of animals, including the hyrax, golden mole, aardvark and manatee.
Byrne continued, "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. 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."