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Plotnik J.M.,University of Cambridge | Pokorny J.J.,Think Elephants International | Pokorny J.J.,University of California at Davis | Keratimanochaya T.,Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation | And 20 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Recent research suggests that domesticated species - due to artificial selection by humans for specific, preferred behavioral traits - are better than wild animals at responding to visual cues given by humans about the location of hidden food. \Although this seems to be supported by studies on a range of domesticated (including dogs, goats and horses) and wild (including wolves and chimpanzees) animals, there is also evidence that exposure to humans positively influences the ability of both wild and domesticated animals to follow these same cues. Here, we test the performance of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) on an object choice task that provides them with visual-only cues given by humans about the location of hidden food. Captive elephants are interesting candidates for investigating how both domestication and human exposure may impact cue-following as they represent a non-domesticated species with almost constant human interaction. As a group, the elephants (n = 7) in our study were unable to follow pointing, body orientation or a combination of both as honest signals of food location. They were, however, able to follow vocal commands with which they were already familiar in a novel context, suggesting the elephants are able to follow cues if they are sufficiently salient. Although the elephants' inability to follow the visual cues provides partial support for the domestication hypothesis, an alternative explanation is that elephants may rely more heavily on other sensory modalities, specifically olfaction and audition. Further research will be needed to rule out this alternative explanation. © 2013 Plotnik et al.

Plotnik J.M.,University of Cambridge | Shaw R.C.,University of Cambridge | Brubaker D.L.,Think Elephants International | Tiller L.N.,Think Elephants International | Clayton N.S.,University of Cambridge
Animal Behaviour | Year: 2014

The two-way object choice paradigm has been used extensively in studies of animal cognition. The paradigm involves presenting two options, one rewarding and one nonrewarding, to a subject and allowing it to make a choice between the two, potentially by exploiting specific cues provided by the experimenter. Using the paradigm, we tested first whether Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, could use auditory and/or olfactory cues to find food. While elephants were unable to locate hidden food by following an auditory cue, they were capable of finding food when the cue was olfactory. The second part of the study involved providing the subjects with only olfactory information about one option before presenting them with a choice between two. In trials in which subjects were allowed to investigate only the nonrewarding option, they made choices by exclusion, either inferring the location of the rewarding option or simply avoiding the nonrewarding one. Elephants thus relied on olfaction to locate food and to exclude nonrewarding food locations, but failed to use auditory information (when it was the only cue presented) to do the same. This study represents important evidence of elephants using their sense of smell in a cognitive task. © 2013 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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