Elephants locking horns in greeting at the Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya.
By CARL ZIMMER New York TImes
We point to things without giving much thought to what a sophisticated act it really is. By simply extending a finger, we can let other people know we want to draw their attention to an object, and indicate which object it is.
As sophisticated as pointing may be, however, babies usually learn to do it by their first birthday. “If you don’t get that they’re drawing your attention to an object, they’ll get cross,” said Richard W. Byrne, a biologist at the University of St Andrews.
When scientists test other species, they find that pointing is a rare gift in the animal kingdom. Even our closest relatives, like chimpanzees, don’t seem to get the point of pointing.
But Dr. Byrne and his graduate student Anna Smet now say they have discovered wild animals that also appears to understand pointing: elephants. The study, involving just 11 elephants, is hardly the last word on the subject. But it raises a provocative possibility that elephants have a deep social intelligence that rivals humans’ in some ways.