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What's the point? African elephants know

AFP/Getty Images
An elephant grazes on October 7, 2013 at Amboseli National Park, approximately 220 kms southeast of Nairobi. Kenyan and Tanzanian governments started on October 7 a joint aerial count of elephants and other large mammals in the shared ecosystem of the Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro and Natron- Magadi landscape. The one-week exercise, cost 104,000 US dollars, is a collaboration between the two countries and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) among others. AFP PHOTO / TONY KARUMBATONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

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By The Los Angeles Times
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
 

African elephants really get the point — the finger point that is. At least, that's the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology that examined the behavior of 11 pachyderms who were pointed in the direction of hidden snacks.

According to study author Richard Byrne, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, African elephants will investigate the contents of a container 68 percent of the time if a human points to it.

A 12-month-old human will check out the indicated container 73 percent of the time.

The test subjects, who had names like Coco, Jake and Malasha, were placed in front of two buckets, one of which contained a snack.

A human experimenter would stand between the buckets and point to the one that had the treat. (The elephants could not see into the buckets, and controls were conducted to ensure that the animals weren't simply sniffing out the treats.)

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