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African elephants call each other by unique names with different sounds, new study reveals

It is rare for wild animals to use names for eachother, but elephants are on that short list.

African elephants call each other by unique names with different sounds, new study reveals
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Juan Felipe Ramírez

Humans communicate through verbal, written, and visual mediums. While animals can't speak, they produce various sounds to connect with their species and relay messages. According to new research published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, African elephants call each other and respond to individual names, a rare trait among species.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

"If you're looking after a large family, you've got to be able to say, 'Hey, Virginia, get over here!'" Duke University's ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the study told NBC News. The elephants let out low rumbling sounds they can hear over large distances. The scientists believe that the animals who dwell in groups and have complex social and familiar structures among them are more likely to use individual names so they can be reunited in case of separations in the savanna.

It is rare for wild animals to have unique names that they use to call each other, but it is not unheard of. Other animals, such as dogs and cats, respond to the names humans give them and baby dolphins whistle to one another and invent their names. Parrots are also one of the few species which mimic human language and may also use names. These species, including elephants, can produce unique sounds throughout their lives.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

For this particular study, biologists used machine learning to identify different names of the elephants stored in a sound library at Kenya's Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park. The biologists even followed the herds of elephants in jeeps to figure out which elephant called out and which one responded to it. Also, the study mentioned that elephants reacted to playbacks of calls differentially addressed to them than calls addressed to a different individual.

"Just like humans, elephants use names but probably don't use names in the majority of utterances, so we wouldn't expect 100%," the study's author and Cornell University biologist Mickey Pardo revealed to NBC News. However, humans can't hear the low rumbling sounds made by elephants because it's below the range of human hearing capacity. The experts who worked on the study still couldn't determine which part of the sounds produced by the elephants are the actual names they call each other.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

The experts also tried playing the rumbling sound recordings to individual elephants to see how they reacted. In response to those recorded sounds, some elephants displayed energetic movements, flapped their ears and started lifting their trunks to the recordings that contained their names. "Elephants are incredibly social, always talking and touching each other — this naming is probably one of the things that underpin their ability to communicate to individuals," co-author and Colorado State University ecologist George Wittemyer, also a scientific adviser for the nonprofit Save the Elephants, mentioned. "We just cracked open the door a bit to the elephant's mind."

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

There have been many instances when these gentle giants displayed their playful and intelligent side to humans. Journalist Alvin Kaunda was reporting from an elephant orphanage called the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust located in Nairobi, Kenya, when he was interrupted by an unexpected guest. Kaunda was reporting live, talking about how human actions are destroying the balance of the ecosystem when a baby elephant attempted to cover Kaunda's face with the trunk. "With the rise in drought cases, it is up to us to be guardians of our natural world and to save our wild species and provide a home," Kaunda continued speaking into the mic, but his composure finally broke and he started giggling.



 

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