EleFact Friday: Unique Vocal Calls

For this week’s EleFact Friday, we are excited to share some fascinating news from the elephant research world that several of you have seen and sent our way! New research, which has been posted as a preprint and has not yet been certified by peer review, suggests that wild African elephants may address each other by specific individual calls – the equivalent of a name for one another. 

This study analyzed calls and vocalizations from wild elephants in two areas of Kenya: the greater Samburu ecosystem in the north part of the country and the Amboseli National Park in the south. Researchers collected over 600 separate calls, many of which occurred between members of the same family group. They found 114 unique callers and 119 unique receivers, allowing the researchers to focus on the calls directed at a single individual elephant and the call’s receiver. 

The acoustic features of the sounds were examined, and various tests were performed to see if it was possible to predict the identity of the receiver from the specific call. It turns out that they could, stating that “receivers of calls could be correctly identified from call structure statistically significantly better than chance.”

Similar vocalizing behavior exists among dolphins, whose calls to one another show mimicking, as they can learn each other’s individual vocal labels and respond to their own label when they hear it. However, in the case of the elephants, limited evidence was found to prove that there was any imitation occurring. It appears that this is the first evidence of vocal addressing without imitation involved. 

This very well could be the first evidence of a non-human species using a human-like naming system when communicating and referring to other individuals. While this could result in tremendous advances in both the elephant world and the way that we study language among all species, it may also show that elephants calling each other by their “names” could be further proof of their significant social bonds and emotional intelligence with one another.

To read more of this study, visit here:

Photo of Guillermina and Rana


  1. REPLY
    Sue says

    So fascinating, thank you for the post!!!! ❤️🐘❤️

  2. REPLY
    Julie says

    The is big! This says so much about their cognitive abilities. Thanks for sharing!

  3. REPLY
    Barb says

    Very exciting indeed! Thanks for sharing this information!

  4. REPLY
    Carol says

    This is an amazing breakthrough. Another elephant quality to be in awe of. I adore them.

  5. REPLY
    Maureen says

    I find it interesting when they say this is “evidence of a non-human species using a human-like naming system” Elephants, as a species in one form or another, have existed on this planet longer than humans. Possibly this is evidence of the human species copying and learning the naming system from a non-human species.

  6. REPLY
    JamesMichael says

    This is exciting news. Truly remarkable, even in its in early stages .

  7. REPLY
    Patricia says

    What Carol said! 💖💖💖

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