African Elephants Understand Human Gesture – UK Scientists

African elephants have demonstrated what appears to be an instinctive understanding of human gestures, UK scientists have said.


In a series of tests, researcher Ann Smet, of the University of St Andrews, offered the animals a choice between two identical buckets, then pointed at the one containing a hidden treat.

From the first trial, the elephants chose the correct bucket.

Animal keeper Rachel Melling describes the bond she feels with the elephants she works with and how they “respond to body language”.

The scientists worked with captive elephants at a lodge in Zimbabwe.

”The elephants had been rescued from culling operations and trained for riding,” said Prof Richard Byrne, a co-author on the research.

“They specifically train the elephants to respond to vocal cues. They don’t use any gestures at all.

“The idea is that the handler can walk behind the elephant and just tell it what to do with words,” he said.

Despite this, the animals seemed to grasp the meaning of pointing from the outset. This makes them the only non-human animals to understand the gesture without being trained to do so.

Source: BBC News