elephant communication

  • References

    Acoustic (that is, sound) signals are omni directional (i.e. they travel in all directions) and can be broadcast to a large audience including intended and unintended listeners, and those in view and hidden from view. Being short-lived and deliberate, acoustic signals are useful for giving information about an immediate situation, rather than about a constant state. Through reflection, refraction and absorption, acoustic signals are degraded by the environment in ways that are often very much greater for high frequency sounds than for low frequency sounds. Elephants are specialists in the production of low frequency sound and in the use of long-distance communication. Check out some good examples on acoustic communication by elephants in article "What Elephant Calls Mean: A User's Guide" published by National Geographic in 2014, based on the work of ElephantVoices.

    The range of sounds elephants produce

    Erin vocalizes after mating with Ed. (©ElephantVoices) Elephants produce a broad range of sounds from very low frequency rumbles to higher frequency snorts, barks, roars, cries and other idiosyncratic calls. Asian elephants also produce chirps. The most frequently used category of calls, at least for African elephants, is the very low frequency rumble. You can search for, listen to and read about numerous sounds through in the Multimedia

  • References

    The use of chemical or olfactory cues is central to communication between elephants. They often raise their trunks up to sniff the air, or use the tips of their trunks to explore the ground Musth temporal gland secretion Mr. Nick. (©ElephantVoices) (especially for urine spots, urine trails and fecal matter) as well as to sniff the genitals, temporal glands, or mouths of other elephants. Chemical communication provides an energetically efficient and long-lasting signal.

    Sources of odours

    Sources of odours used in chemical communication between elephants include urine, faeces, saliva and secretions from the temporal gland, a large multi-lobed sac with an orifice mid-way between the ear and eye.

    Elephants may also use secretions from the tarsal or Meibomian glands and interdigital glands in communication, and they are frequently observed with secretions from the ears which are also likely to convey information.

    Sense of smell

    Elephants have a keen sense of smell and just as we use our sight an elephant makes use of her sense of smell constantly. When we want to learn more about what an elephant is thinking or where her attention is directed, we look not at her gaze (as we would with a person), but at the tip of her trunk. The tip

  • Our long-term study of elephant social behavior, communication and cognition has centered around our work on elephants in Amboseli, Kenya. We have worked there in collaboration with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) and affiliated scientists, Karen McComb, Lucy Bates, Beth Archie, Hamisi Mutinda, Graeme Shannon and Julie Hollister-Smith in a decades-long study of African savanna elephants. Our own data go back to 1975 when Joyce first joined the Amboseli project.

    Since 2000 we have concentrated our observations and recordings on the EB family, which was led by the famous matriarch, Echo, until she sadly died in May, 2009. These recordings make up a detailed part of our collection. In addition to data from Amboseli, we have recordings from shorter studies of elephants carried out in Tsavo National Park, Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Laikipia, Kenya. We have also made recordings and observations of Asian elephants in Ude Walawe, Wasgamua and Minneriya National Parks in Sri Lanka.

    In furthering our understanding of elephants and their communication, we have collaborated with scientists outside the realm of Amboseli, too. We worked with Katy Payne in describing the use of infrasound in African elephants. We collaborate with Caitlin O'Connell to further her

  • Dear Friend of ElephantVoices,

    For the first time you can Speak Elephant with your friends. You can share your message in a pretty cool way:-).

    Together with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, we’re launching Say Hello in Elephant to raise awareness and to showcase elephant communication. Our goal is to reach far and wide - during World Elephant Day, 12th August, and beyond.

    In the press release about this campaign ElephantVoices’ Joyce Poole states: "Elephants are awe-inspiring and every moment in their company brings joy. Unlocking their rich emotive communication and gaining deeper insight into their world is fascinating. Yet, elephants and their habitats are under assault, and we urgently need to change hearts and minds.”

    Say Hello in Elephant provides a little window into the complex communication of elephants. If you want to learn more, check out our elephant calls database. We are currently working on a major expansion of all our elephant behavior databases, and look forward to show you more during the coming year.

    More than ever we need your help to inspire people to do their utmost to stop the ivory trade and to ensure a future with space for elephants. Please consider supporting the work of

  • Listening to the voices of elephants over decades has taught us that communication is the glue that binds the social network of an intelligent species, and its study offers a window into the hearts and minds of elephants. Our collection of observations, recordings and images come from Africa and Asia and form the basis of extensive databases, being used and visited by a world-wide audience.

    National Geographic illustrationA decades-long study of elephant social behaviour, communication and cognition in Amboseli, Kenya, have been dedicated to the understanding and protection of these remarkable creatures. Our work in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, and Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, is adding to this body of knowledge and will in due time also be reflected in our online behavioral databases.

    By studying what elephants are capable of understanding and what they communicate to one another, we have a better chance of finding solutions to the many problems that elephants face. In this endeavour we collaborate with biologists all over the world with our online collections forming a unique resource for other scientists and the public.

    By clicking on the illustration to the right you will be able to check out an article on National Geographic, giving some insight

  • Like all highly social mammals elephants have a well-developed system of communication that makes use of all of their senses - hearing, smell, vision and touch - including an exceptional ability to detect vibrations.

    Acoustic communication takes a look at sound production and hearing in elephants; chemical communication explains how elephants use various secretions and their acute sense of smell to communicate; visual communication looks at how elephants make use of postures and displays and their sense of sight in communication; tactile communication describes how elephants make use of their sense of touch to communicate.

    At one end of the spectrum elephants communicate by rubbing their bodies against one another, at the other end they may respond by moving toward the sounds of other elephants calling, perhaps 10 kilometers away. They convey information about their physiological (e.g. sexual/hormonal, body condition, identity) and emotional state (e.g. whether they are fearful, playful, joyful, angry, excited) as well as communicating specific "statements" about their intentions or desires. In this section we look at how elephants use the different pathways of communication and the actual mechanics of communicating.

    You can here on ElephantVoices find numerous elephant sounds, in fully searchable databases and elsewhere. Visit our Elephant

  • References

    Seismic energy transmits most efficiently between the 10 and 40 Hz - in the same range as the fundamental frequency and 2nd harmonic of an elephant rumble. It turns out that when an elephant rumbles a replica of the airborne sound is also transmitted through the ground. Elephant sounds have been measured as traveling at about 309 m per second through air and at about 248-264 m/sec through the ground.

    Experiments carried out by Caitlin O'Connell and colleagues have shown that elephants are able to pick up these seismic signals, to orient in the direction that the vibrations come from and even to respond to them appropriately.

    Elephants may be able to detect these seismic vibrations, or rayleigh waves, through two possible means, bone conduction and the use of massive ossicles of their middle ears or possibly by mechano-receptors in the toes or feet that are sensitive to vibrations.

    The tip of an elephant's trunk has layers of cells called Pacinian corpuscles that are extremely sensitive to vibrations and it thought to be able to detect movement as subtle as Brownian motion. Pacinian corpuscles have also been found in the elephant foot - concentrated in the front and back (toes and heel