June 25, 2024 at 5:38 pm

New Research Shows African Elephants Call Each Other By “Name”

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

If you need more proof that there are many animals in the world with understanding that goes far beyond instinct, well, you probably haven’t been paying attention.

We’ve known for a long time that elephants are social creatures and are also very intelligent.

Now, research is showing that they see each other as individuals with their own “names,” and can call each other that way in the wild.

The research analyzed wild elephant calls in Kenya, using a dataset of around 470 separate elephant calls.

They found 101 unique callers and 117 unique receivers.

The scientists measured the acoustic features of the sounds and ran a series of tests of the data, finding it was possible to predict the identity of the receiver based on the call.

“Receivers of calls could be correctly identified from call structure statistically significantly better than chance.”

Souce: Shutterstock

They were particularly interested in learning whether or not the calls minicked the receivers own vocalizations, a practice that has been observed in dolphins and a few other species.

With the elephants, author Kurt Fristrup says they found evidence the callers were imitating each receiver’s own call.

“Our findings that elephants are not simply mimicking the sound associated with the individual they are calling was the most intriguing. The capacity to utilize arbitrary sonic labels for other individuals suggests that other kinds of labels or descriptors may exist in elephant calls.”

When they played recordings of the calls for 17 of the elephants, their responses were interesting.

“Further supporting the existence of vocal labels, subjects approached the existence of vocal labels, subjects approached the speaker more quickly and vocalized more quickly in response to test playbacks than control playbacks.”

The assumption was that the elephants were temporarily confused by the playback.

The authors concluded this could be the first evidence of a non-human species using something like names to refer to specific individuals.

“Due to their fission-fusion social dynamics, elephants are often separated from their closely bonded social partners.”

They’re referring to the way they tend to split into smaller parties within larger groups that are sometimes numbered in the hundreds.

“Vocal labels probably allow elephants to attract the attention of a specific distant receiver.”

Souce: Shutterstock

Calling each other by a “name” also enhances social bonds, which only raises further questions about how complex their social interactions might be.

We’re a ways off from being able to have a conversation with an elephant ourselves.

But honestly, they probably don’t think we’re that interesting anyway.

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