African elephants spontaneously understand human pointing without any training to do so according to new research conducted by Richard Byrne and Anna Smet of the University of Saint Andrews that was published in the Oct. 10, 2103, edition of the journal Current Biology.
This is the first proof that African elephants understand and respond to human pointing much like other humans do. The discovery is remarkable considering most apes cannot accomplish the understanding of the meaning of human pointing.
The researchers tested both wild elephants and tame elephants used in rides in Victoria Falls in southern Africa. The tame elephants had been trained to respond to vocal commands but not to gestures.
There was no difference between wild or tame elephants in the speed of learning or comprehension of pointing gestures that led the elephants to food.
This research is the first proof that elephants also use gestures like humans to communicate with other elephants although the exact nature of the pointing gestures used by elephants is not known at this time.
The research further explains the ease that people have had in training elephants to perform work and other tasks. The elephant appears to have evolved to communicate and interact with people much like dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals.
The research also demonstrates that pointing is not a uniquely human form of communication.