Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Do elephants call 'human!'? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices

Date:
March 16, 2014
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
African elephants make a specific alarm call in response to the danger of humans, according to a new study of wild elephants in Kenya. Researchers carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble.

Elephants flee the sound of local people whilst emitting the telltale 'human' alarm call rumble.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Oxford

African elephants make a specific alarm call in response to the danger of humans, according to a new study of wild elephants in Kenya.

Researchers from Oxford University, Save the Elephants, and Disney's Animal Kingdom carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble.

When the team, having recorded this rumble, played it back to a group of elephants they reacted in a similar way to the sound of the Samburu voices; running away and becoming very vigilant, perhaps searching for the potentially lethal threat of human hunters.

The new research, recently reported in PLOS ONE, builds on previous Oxford University research showing that elephants call 'bee-ware' and run away from the sound of angry bees. Whilst the 'bee' and 'human' rumbling alarm calls might sound similar to our ears there are important differences at low (infrasonic) frequencies that elephants can hear but humans can't.

'Elephants appear to be able to manipulate their vocal tract (mouth, tongue, trunk and so on) to shape the sounds of their rumbles to make different alarm calls,' said Dr Lucy King of Save the Elephants and Oxford University who led the study with Dr Joseph Soltis, a bioacoustics expert from Disney's Animal Kingdom, and colleagues.

'We concede the possibility that these alarm calls are simply a by-product of elephants running away, that is, just an emotional response to the threat that other elephants pick up on,' Lucy tells me. 'On the other hand, we think it is also possible that the rumble alarms are akin to words in human language, and that elephants voluntarily and purposefully make those alarm calls to warn others about specific threats. Our research results here show that African elephant alarm calls can differentiate between two types of threat and reflect the level of urgency of that threat.'

Elephant 'human' alarm call rumble

Significantly, the reaction to the human alarm call included none of the head-shaking behaviour displayed by elephants hearing the bee alarm. When threatened by bees elephants shake their heads in an effort to knock the insects away as well as running -- despite their thick hides adult elephants can be stung around their eyes or up their trunks, whilst calves could potentially be killed by a swarm of stinging bees as they have yet to develop a thick protective skin.

Lucy explains: 'Interestingly, the acoustic analysis done by Joseph Soltis at his Disney laboratory showed that the difference between the ''bee alarm rumble'' and the ''human alarm rumble'' is the same as a vowel-change in human language, which can change the meaning of words (think of ''boo'' and ''bee''). Elephants use similar vowel-like changes in their rumbles to differentiate the type of threat they experience, and so give specific warnings to other elephants who can decipher the sounds.'

This collaborative research on how elephants react to and communicate about honeybees and humans is being used to reduce human-elephant conflict in Kenya. Armed with the knowledge that elephants are afraid of bees, Lucy and Save the Elephants have built scores of 'beehive fences' around local farms that protect precious fields from crop-raiding elephants.

'In this way, local farmers can protect their families and livelihoods without direct conflict with elephants, and they can harvest the honey too for extra income,' says Lucy. 'Learning more about how elephants react to threats such as bees and humans will help us design strategies to reduce human-elephant conflict and protect people and elephants.'


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. The original article was written by Pete Wilton. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joseph Soltis, Lucy E. King, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Fritz Vollrath, Anne Savage. African Elephant Alarm Calls Distinguish between Threats from Humans and Bees. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (2): e89403 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089403

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Do elephants call 'human!'? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316133750.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2014, March 16). Do elephants call 'human!'? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316133750.htm
University of Oxford. "Do elephants call 'human!'? Low rumble alarm call in response to the sound of human voices." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140316133750.htm (accessed August 20, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Awesome New Camouflage Sheet Was Inspired By Octopus Skin

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) Scientists have developed a new device that mimics the way octopuses blend in with their surroundings to hide from dangerous predators. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

Disquieting Times for Malaysia's 'fish Listeners'

AFP (Aug. 19, 2014) Malaysia's last "fish listeners" -- practitioners of a dying local art of listening underwater to locate their quarry -- try to keep the ancient technique alive in the face of industrial trawling and the depletion of stocks. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
USDA Cracks Down On Imports From Foreign Puppy Mills

USDA Cracks Down On Imports From Foreign Puppy Mills

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) New USDA measures to regulate dog imports aim to crack down on buying dogs from overseas puppy mills. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bone Marrow Drug Regrows Hair In Some Alopecia Patients

Bone Marrow Drug Regrows Hair In Some Alopecia Patients

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) Researchers performed an experiment using an FDA-approved drug known as ruxolitinib. They found it to be successful in the majority of patients. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins