An elephant producing an unusual clicking, purring, humming, or croaking sound of variable duration while they are relaxed and engaged in normal maintenance activities such as feeding or drinking. This behavior is not performed by all individuals. Studying elephants in captivity, in 2003 Leong and her colleagues first reported croaking as a pulsating sound lasting between 1 and 10 seconds. These sounds were produced by several different individuals and were often associated with the sucking of water or odors into the mouth and usually occurred in a series of two or three croaks.

In the wild this behavior appears to be rare, idiosyncratic and learned from imitating others. In Amboseli a population of some 1500 elephants only two individuals have been heard to Croak: Close associates and adult sisters, Gail and Gwen. Both Croak when they are relaxed and feeding, and Croaking appears to have no communicative function. Similar to the observations in captivity Croaking is variable in duration (~1.6-4.6 seconds). For many years only Gail was heard to croak, but then Gwen began to croak. We recorded Gail Croaking in 2003. In 2016 Croaking was recorded by colleagues from a third individual and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants has reported it from a fourth. We suggest that Croaking is an example of vocal learning.

References: Leong et al 2003; Poole 2011. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Novel & Idiosyncratic