Sunday, October 07, 2007

It’s a Bird… It’s a Truck…It’s an Elephant?

Very few animals are capable of learning vocalizations; most commonly we see birds, primates and some marine mammals performing such a behavior. But recently, Joyce Poole, the director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Sandefjord, Norway, working with other researchers, recorded African and Asian elephants learning vocalizations; mimicking the noises from their environment and other elephants. Poole documented a young female African elephant imitating the sound of nearby traffic, and a 23-years old male that had lived with two Asian elephants for 18 years, mimicking chirps and noises made by the Asian species. She recoded elephants exhibiting the behavior in captivity, but notes that elephants, like other animals able to learn vocals, have complex social lives.

Although more work would need to be done to look at the neuronal basis for the elephants learning, we can see that they rely on cultural learning through imitation. As seen with the elephants Poole researched, the animals were mimicking sounds they heard on a daily basis. An older article in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society shows an Asian elephant with the same ability as the African elephants. The article states that an Asian elephant could lift her trunk and blow through it to whistle. Not only did she learn the trick, but researchers also noted a younger elephant watched and eventually learned the trick himself.

Reports such as these, on elephant communication have been around for a while, but what shocked the researchers was that the elephants are able to teach and learn new sounds, even non-elephant sounds! It might be interesting to look into whether or not specific vocalizations are being passed on from one generation to the next. Now, researchers must attempt to figure out what this behavior is used for in the wild. Most likely the tool is used in and amonst different groups of elephants as a way of distinguishing family and foe. Future research may help us learn more about elephant’s social lives, and possibly other behaviors we thought were limited to other animals.


Audio Clip of Elephant Being a Truck

Posted By Courtney Huffman (2)


At 11:28 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is a really interesting topic. I find elephants to be very intriguing as more and more is learned about them. They seem to be very emotional and intelligent animals. I wonder what the traffic imitations sound like.

Posted by: Gina Sciartilli (2)

At 11:42 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This is a very interesting topic and I would like to learn more about it. I never knew elephants could mimic sounds they heard in their environments.

Posted by Jessica McDonnell(2).

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ability to be able to learn vocalization from other elephants is a very interesting concept. But it makes me think that this maybe a survival behavior. Think of it this way if a baby elephant wasn't able to learn from the elder elephants then it most likely wouldn't be able to survive. We as humans do the same thing, we imitate those around us.

Posted by: Andrew Thompson(1)


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