Last week’s EleFACT was a look at how elephants possess the ability to use tools in various aspects of their life, both in captivity and in the wild. This week, we’ll look at another observed skill – mimicry.
Recent studies have shown signs that elephants are capable of mimicking sounds they hear, a skill previously thought to be only applicable to whales, dolphins, bats, primates, and birds. The discovery was initially made when an orphaned elephant named Mlaika seemed to be copying the sounds of trucks passing by. Another African elephant, Calimero, was in captivity with Asian elephants and began to make chirping sounds – a behavior that is typically specific to Asian elephants. The chirps became as common a vocalization, or perhaps even more common than the deep rumbles that he would normally make as part of the African elephant species.
We know that elephants create low-frequency sounds in the systemic vibrations that occur when they walk, and we’ve discussed in previous posts that this is also a form of communication. Research has found that female elephants of the same herd who were close in relationship have been more likely to produce rumbles to other members at twice the rate of those who had lesser integrated members. We can draw the conclusion that members can differentiate different calls and vibrations and be able to mimic and repeat them to communicate to other herd members in unique ways. Other forms of research are in the work to discover whether elephants, in all of their extensive means of communication, actually possess different dialects in their rumbles, chirps, and squeaks as well.
Photo of Guille