A recent article in the Science Times section of the New York Times pointed out (no pun attended) that pointing is common to human beings. Babies learn to do it before their first birthday. Want the toy rattle? Point to it. Want the baby biscuit? Point to it. Real smart babies learn it before six months.
It’s most likely when I learned it.
When scientists test other species, however, they find that pointing is rare in the animal kingdom. Even our cousins the chimpanzees don’t really get the knack of pointing — you point at something and a chimpanzee scratches his head and looks up at the sky.
Most animals are like that — that is, except for elephants.
Since the star of Charter School General is an elephant named Bette, this article quickly caught my attention. Seems that elephants have a deep social intelligence that rivals humans’ in some ways. So scientists came up with a research experiment to test to see if animals understand pointing.
Here’s how it works. Scientists put food in one of two identical containers. Then silently point to the container with the food. They wait to see which container the animal approaches. Scientists sit around and think up things like this. You can try it with your pet.
Then the scientists went to Zimbabwe (I’ve got to get me one of those jobs) and tried the pointing experiment with elephants. They went to the Wild Horizons park where elephants are used to take tourists on safaris and there they tested out the pointing experiment with elephants.
Turns out, when the scientists pointed to a bucket of fruit, the elephants went to that bucket first, at about a 67.5 percent success rate. One year old human babies have about a 72.7 percent success rate. The elephants definitely passed the pointing test. Now scientists are wondering if elephants can point to each other.
We’ll have to wait until those results come in, but you don’t have to wait to read Charter School General.