A Rumbling, greeting exchange between members of an elephant family in which one (usually older and female) approaches another (usually younger, in parallel and from behind). Typically, the approaching elephant emits a soft, tonal Rumble of medium duration (2.5-4 seconds) to which the elephant being approached, responds by Head-Raising, Ear-Lifting and sometimes Backing-Towards the approaching elephant and emitting a responding, more noisy Rumble of medium duration and moderate intensity (although these are highly variable). Often both individuals Head-Raise and Ear-Lift and the two may Social-Rub against one another, touch one another or greet Trunk-to-Mouth. Both are likely to secrete Temporin. This interchange is a relatively frequent event in an elephant family and we refer to it as Little-Greeting-Rumbles. Examination of spectrograms indicate that in almost every case both the approaching and approached elephant call (although the softer call of the former may be drowned out by the more powerful call of the latter) and that their Rumbles overlap. In some cases nearby elephants may also join in. Elephants may also call in this manner when one approaches another face to face, although this pattern is less common.

Little-Greeting-Rumbles may occur between any member of an elephant family, including between two males, but they are most commonly heard between females. Little-Greetings occur more often between mother-daughter, sister-sister, grandmother-granddaughter pairs than expected by chance, and less often between aunt-niece, great-grandmother-great-granddaughter or pairs who were second cousins. Yet, some exchanges aunt-niece pairs show a high frequency of Little-Greeting-Rumble exchanges. In each case these are pairs in which the niece was an infant prior to the aunt having her first calf, and the aunt was the most likely candidate in the family for taking the role of allomother. Calves and their caretakers (often sisters and aunts) emit Coo-Rumble and As-Touched-Rumble exchanges under rather similar circumstances to Little-Greeting-Rumble exchanges and we believe that the Coo-Rumble and As-Touched-Rumble probably develops into a Little-Greeting-Rumble relationship.

We venture to propose that the relationships established through early vocal and tactile care-giving by mothers, sisters and other allomothers form the basis of close bonds observed as adults which are then strengthened and reinforced through the customary Little-Greetings between closely bonded pairs. The care-takers who looked after the Tsavo orphans were able to elicit the same type of answer Rumbles from the orphaned calves by individually calling out their names. Members of an elephant family appear to use this common vocal exchange as a way of saying something like 'hello, its good to be near you again' or, perhaps, 'you are important to me'.

References: Poole 2011. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Affiliative


Context: Affiliative (1)

We are with the Mabenzi family. Matriarch, Provocadora, gf0012, stands facing us and gf0020 reaches out Trunk-to-Mouth and gives her a Little-Greeting, Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. gf0012 takes a couple more steps in our direction and stops and Contemplates us, Displacement-Feed for 7 seconds and then Stands-Tall and stares at us. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Affiliative (2)

A one year old male calf walks toward his mother (left) and an adolescent female (coming from the right). As he walks toward her we see him Ear-Lifting and we see his mother reaching her Trunk-Toward the approaching female. They meet and greet vocally before he goes on to his mother.

By their behavior these are Little-Greeting-Rumbles and the adolescent female is likely his allomother. The little male's Rumble sounds like an As-Touched-Rumble, but as we have hypothesized these calf calls develop into Little-Greeting-Rumbles. Notice how the adolescent female reaches to touch him Trunk-to-Mouth and Trunk-to-Genitals. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (3)

Gina approaches Pat Derby and starts the interchange with a Little-Greeting-Rumble which is answered by a more explosive and throaty Little-Greeting-Rumble response by Pat Derby (typical of this sort of exchange) as she steps smartly forward. Gina calls again - and Pat Derby extends her more modulated call. Pat Derby walks forward and out of the frame and calls a third time. Note that we believe that Gina is the matriarch and Pat Derby is the next largest/oldest female in the family. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (4)

As matriarch Big Mama approaches, a younger female reaches up to her Trunk-to-Mouth and then performs Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting as she gives a Little-Greeting-Rumble to Big Mama. Her Little Greeting to Big Mama is joined by others, including (it looks like) a 4-5 year old female calf behind.

It does not appear that Big Mama Rumbles as evidenced by her lack of ear movement, but there does seem to be a very low Rumble. Big Mama sniffs toward the female and then gives an Ear-Flap-Slide and turns and walks off. She moves toward another female to the right, who also gives her a Little-Greeting-Rumble. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (5)

As the clip starts we see a 1 year old calf Suckling from a young female from Big Mama's family. A younger female approaches the nursing mother and calf. We can hear the approaching female emit a Little-Greeting-Rumble which is associated with Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. The calf recognizes the caller as she pauses in her Suckling to emit a Snort-Rumble in response as the arriving female touches her Trunk-to Mouth.

The nursing mother also gives a Little-Greeting-Rumble in response and we can see her Head-Raising, Ear-Lifting and Ear-Flapping. The female who arrived touches the infant again Trunk-to-Face and the mother rumbles once more and then they stand side by side. A lovely example of a Little-Greeting. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (6)

Mama Little E is standing to the left of a tree and Little E is trying to Suckle. A young female approaches from the left and they engage in a Little-Greeting - Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting and Little-Greeting-Rumbles. A third female at the back right joins in the Little-Greeting and we hear her Trumpet-Rumble. Note that the approaching female touches Little E. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (7)

A family of elephants is Moving-While-Feeding. As an older female approaches a younger female, the younger female Ear-Slaps and gives what may be a Little-Greeting-Rumble. It is possible, however, that this call is associated with a Supplant as the younger female exhibits Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting but also Foot-Swinging, as if she is a bit unsure. The shape of the spectrogram - descending in pitch - is a bit like some of the complaining Rumbles. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (8)

Mama Little E is leading and Little E is following. Lorato comes behind and Shepherds Little E over branches and logs - her trunk there to support him in case. His mother stops to Wait for him and Lorato reaches to him Trunk-to-Mouth.

We hear what sounds like a Little-Greeting-Rumble and a 7 year old female is revealed with her Ears-Lifted. All stop. There are lions about and they are sniffing the ground. One of the filmmakers comments that they are smelling the lions. Note that we can still see the stain on Mama's legs from the birth. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (9)

V-Notch has been off somewhere and suddenly comes Sashaying from bushes and giving a Little-Greeting-Rumble as she approaches the others. We see and hear her mother, Grumpy Grandma, responding to her with a Little-Greeting and another young or juvenile female, too. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (10)

This is part of Big Mama's family. As the clip begins an adult female moves forward to feed on a bush. Her one year old female calf goes behind her and leans on her hind leg as an allomother looks on and touches the calf. The calf walks forward and as she is touched by another adolescent female she Head-Raises, Ear-Flaps and gives a loud As-Touched-Rumble, which seems to be answered by another elephant out of view. The adolescent female engages in Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. This is the age when we believe that As-Touched-Rumbles begin to transition into Little-Greeting-Rumbles - for this reason we have included this clip under both categories. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (11)

Noyeau is standing with her newborn when she is approached by Nabila who reaches out to greet her Trunk-to-Mouth. One of them Snorts and Noyeau Rumbles, Head-Raising and Ear-Lifting. There is no Rumble by Nabila. (Amboseli, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (12)

Jacinta approaches her niece, Jolie, who is coming into estrus and appears to be Waiting. Jolie reaches out to Jacinta Trunk-to-Mouth, Ear-Lifts (with slight Ear-Folding) and gives a Little-Greeting-Rumble. Jacinta walks on. (Amboseli, Kenya)


Context: Affiliative (13)

As the clip starts Angelina (in the right) stands Waiting in a Foot-Forward posture. After some time she Looks-Back to the right and then the left and then she Backs-Toward the others a few steps and Looks-Back again. We hear approaching Abra Rumble and this is answered, by a louder call by her daughter, Allura, who is out of sight. Abra's call is long and we still hear her Rumbling as Allura's call ends. Allura Rumbles again. We hear a couple more Rumbles by other callers and then we hear and see Angelina Rumble. Angelina Waits for Abra to catch up and then begins to Walk. (Amboseli, Kenya)