Amazing Discovery Claims Elephants Have Specific 'Names' For One Another

Amazing Discovery Claims Elephants Have Specific ‘Names’ For One Another

As elephants roam the African grasslands, they can often communicate with relatives by calling their ‘names’.

Researchers have found evidence that wild elephants in the savannah of Kenya label each other’s sounds, which they use to communicate.

The research has yet to be peer-reviewed, but if the results can be confirmed and replicated, they will make elephants the only known non-human animal to communicate strange words.

Bottlenose dolphins can call some people by imitating their unique whistles, but scientists say this is a little different from what we humans do.

Our names are not usually based on imitations of unique noises that we make ourselves (like Pikachu), but usually reflect something clear and intangible, buried in cultural practices and values.

It is this strict nature of human naming that seems to apply to elephants as well.

In a talk available on YouTube, biologist Michael Pardo of Colorado State says his team’s findings may “blur the line” between “what we think is unique to human language versus what is found in other animal communication systems.”

Elephants are known for their trumpet-like calls, but most of their communication is inaudible to humans.

Instead, these large mammals produce low-frequency waves, which can carry messages to the feet of other elephants up to six kilometers away.

Elephants spend most of the day looking for food, and it is common for the herd to ignore each other in that effort. Calling each other names can help keep the herd together.

To explore that possibility, Pardo and his colleagues spent hours recording the cries of elephants in the wild, in two different locations in Kenya.

In total, the team collected 625 rumbles. Some of these were meeting sounds, such as those described above, while others were greeting sounds, which occur when elephants see each other again after some time apart.

To analyze the various characteristics of this phenomenon, the researchers used a machine learning model to accurately predict which rumble was being addressed. The results suggest that certain sounds were specific to each receiver, and that those sounds did not rely on mimicry of the receiver.

When the scientists played some of these songs to 17 wild elephants, the humans moved quickly to the sound of their ‘name’ and shouted quickly in response, too.

Moreover, these voice labels appeared to be relatively consistent across the herd.

In other words, different elephants have always used the same type of reputation to communicate with the same person, and these name labels were not just broad social roles, such as ‘mother’.

Of all the roars recorded among elephants in Kenya, only about five have been identified as vocalizations, but this is similar to how humans use words. Many times, the words are not needed in the context, or they are just one part of a larger article.

The popularity of elephants is based on different message codes, from age to gender to emotional state, and in some cases, these may take precedence over name.

“Instead of involving an independent call, elephant voice labels can be embedded within a call that transmits multiple messages simultaneously,” the researchers explain.

“The richness in the information content of elephant vocalizations makes it difficult to identify specific acoustic parameters that encode recipient ID.”

The results show artificial intelligence systems can indeed help us better understand the nuances of animal communication.

Maybe one day researchers can even use this information to call elephants by their names.

Preprints available bioRxiv.

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