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: Conflict & Confrontation (1)

Matriarch gf0073 has just Charged us and almost hit the car. As this clip starts gf0073 is moving back toward the rest of the family who have retreated to the forest. She is taking up the Rear-Guard while Standing-Tall and Curling-Trunk-Under. She turns to face us and Head-Shakes. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (2)

After a Group-Advance Corojosa, gf0054, is concerned again. She stands with Ears-Stiff and a J-Trunk, Listening and Contemplating us. After much Contemplation Corajosa Head-Shakes and Advances-Toward us. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (3)

We arrive at the pan and find Aloisio, gm0040, and adult female matriarch gf0070 and her family. We can hear the Bathawk flying nearby and the elephants are acting vigilant and begin to coalesce around gf0070. A young male Head-Shakes and seems to be annoyed at being disturbed on a pleasant afternoon. A young female moves toward the matriarch from the other direction and Touch-Self. The matriarch and young female are Standing-Tall in apprehensive posture. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (4)

An adult male is suffering from a big swollen wound (likely caused by a spear). He Head-Shakes at the filmmakers. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (5)

Latino is walking toward the car and she Shake-Heads and Snorts. We are guessing that she must have detected someone outside the vehicle. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (6)

Rui is Listening and then begins a Musth-Walk while J-Sniffing. The filmmaker starts car and Rui stops, Standing-Tall. Then he makes a kind of “3-Point-Turn” and Head-Shakes. Then he Stands-Tall again. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Conflict & Confrontation (7)

As we drive up gm0015 Head-Shakes at us. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)