An abrupt shaking of the head, which causes the ears to flap sharply and dust to fly. Head-Shaking usually starts by the elephant twisting the head to one side and then rapidly rotating it from side to side. The ears slap against the side of the face or neck making a loud smacking sound.

Head-Shaking occurs in a broad range of contexts. It can be a sign of an individual's annoyance with or disapproval of an individual or circumstance. It can be used as a threat to other elephants or in confrontations with predators, as well as in play in feign annoyance. It also occurs during intense social events such as Greeting-Ceremonies or the arrival of an awaited individual.

Head-Shaking may also occur after a longish period of contemplation - as if the individual has considered something and the Head-Shake is an outward expression of those feelings. Head-Shaking also typically follows a bout of mud-splashing or mud wallowing.

This behavior is observed in all age/sex groups except during Affiliative bonding behavior in which it is limited to female adults, adolescents, juveniles and calves.

References: Douglas-Hamilton 1972: ch 6; Eltringham 1982; Poole 1987a; Moss 1988; Moss 1992: 129; Payne & Langbauer 1992; Poole 1996: 147; Langbauer 2000; Poole & Granli 2003. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Affiliative, Aggressive, Attentive, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Conflict & Confrontation, Lone & Object Play, Social Play, Submissive, Protest & Distress


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (1)

Two juvenile males are Sparring. One is bigger than the other. An adolescent female intervenes Orienting-Toward them and Head-Shaking and then Looks-At the older male while Trunk-Sucking. She Advances-Toward the older male and he Backs-Away. It is as if she decides that they are being too rough - or perhaps the older male is not part of the family and she is protecting a sibling - or perhaps she wants to join the play. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (2)

Little E is one month old. Immediately prior to this scene, Little E rushed past his mother and allomothers to touch the car. The two aunties freak out and give a series of Trumpet-Blasts. Little E is alarmed - caught between his noisy aunties and the car. His mother, Mama Little E, rushes over to join the allomothers and, as this clip start she manages to retrieve him. As the clip starts his mother, Mama Little E, is using her trunk to Shepherd him back to safety. They rumble and form a Defensive-Circle around Little E with Mama Little E and V-Notch on either side and Lorato Sashaying in to fill in the gap between Little E and the vehicle. They continue to Back-Away and then when little E tries to suckle his mother uses her trunk to purposefully lead his mouth to her breast (Trunk-to-Infant-at-Breast). Lorato Head-Shake and continue to Back-Toward the others. All get fresh Temporin. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (3)

Mama Little E is feeding and then hears something or becomes aware of something that concerns her. She Head-Shakes and then turns and walks away with Little E. Allomother Lorato was alerted by whatever it was and she walks toward Mama Little E and Little E with Ears-Tense. She stops and Stands-Tall, Ear-Spreading and Head-Swinging as if trying to detect what the problem was, then she Back-Toward mother and Little E to help protect him and Head-Shakes as she reaches them. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Calf Reassurance & Protection (4)

Little E is 8 days old and allomother, Lorato, is taking seriously her job of looking after him. She comes out of the bushes where her family is resting, finds the filmmakers and then threatens them by Advancing-Toward them and displaying a Head-Dip-Touch-Ground and Head-Shaking, then she Back-Toward Mama Little E who is resting under the tree with her infant. As she does so she Touch-Self expressing her ambivalence. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)