Elephants Understand Pointing, According To New Study

Elephants understand the point of pointing.

That’s the word from a new study conducted by a biologist from the University of St Andrews and his graduate student.

The New York Times first reported on the pointing study Thursday, and in that report, Dr. Richard W. Byrne revealed his and student Anna Smet’s methodology.

According to Byrne, Smet traveled to Zimbabwe to a company called Wild Horizons, which offers elephant-back safaris. While the elephants would wait for tourists to arrive for a trip, Smet would set up two buckets behind a screen.

An elephant handler then brought one of the animals a few yards away from her. The elephant observed as Smet lowered pieces of fruit behind a screen and put them into one of the buckets.

(The elephant couldn’t see which bucket took the fruit.)

“I actually checked that from elephant height,” Smet added.

She then brought the buckets out so the elephants could see and stood between them. Then, pointing at the bucket with the fruit inside, Smet watched as the handler walked the elephant toward the buckets. She would then note which of the buckets the elephant stuck its trunk in first.

Eleven elephants were part of the study, so this is hardly the last word, but for Byrne, it poses some interesting possibilities for the intelligence of elephants compared to humans, considering that chimpanzees, man’s closest relative, do not understand the point of pointing.

The elephant pointing study is not the only weird animal study we’ve brought you recently. In September, we told you about how scientists confirmed butterflies drink turtle tears. Also in September, we told you the story of how whales tan and face sunburns and skin cancer, just like human beings.

More on the elephant pointing study here:

Since elephants were found almost as capable as children of understanding the purpose of pointing, do you think we should consider these creatures to be higher up on the intelligence chain?

[Image via ShutterStock]