Wild African elephants address one another with individually specific calls. Infographic.

In another stark and historic finding by researchers we are reminded yet again that our animal cousins are more like us than we ever imagined and I hope that it helps us understand that any form of abuse or exploitation is wholly immoral and frankly cruel. It is odd that African countries where tourists can admire the wild African elephant in their natural habitat also allow trophy hunters to shoot them for fun and to provide income to the authorities who claim it goes to conservation but does it? These are intelligent, sentient beings. We should treat them as equals.

Wild African elephants address one another with individually specific calls. Infographic.
Wild African elephants address one another with individually specific calls. Infographic. This image is free to use under a Creative Commons license. Click on it to see the original.

RELATED: elephant vocalisations

Kurt Fristrup of Colorado State University, the base for the research, said:

Our finding that elephants are not simply mimicking the sound associated with the individual they are calling was the most intriguing.

It had been thought that only humans can create new sounds that relate to individuals and then come to an agreement about the meaning. The new research provides evidence that humans are not alone in this skill.

These are preliminary findings and I suspect that in the future more work will be conducted on this critical topic.

It’s believed the elephants developed the skill because of the need to coordinate activities over a large group and thereby may have developed abstract language.

George Whittemeyer, of the team, said that the research provided insights about elephants and also about humans. He said that, “If all we could do was make noises that sounded like what we were talking about, it would vastly limit our ability to communicate.”

In one particular interaction, an elephant called Margaret recognised a deep growl and grumble rumbling across a Savannah of her daughter Marie. Marie was calling her mother and she responded. Later she made another call but not to her mother and her mother did not respond. Marie was making a sound which correspond, in elephant language, to the name of her mother “Margaret” in our language.

This brand-new study suggests wild African elephants use unique calls to address each other, much like humans using names. Researchers analyzed recordings of elephant vocalizations in Kenya and found distinct low rumbles that functioned as individual “names”. Elephants apparently learn, remember, and respond to these specific calls. This ability is rare in the animal kingdom and reinforces the idea of complex social structures among elephants.

RELATED: Man calls and talks to the elephants in their language

Study citation: Pardo, M.A., Fristrup, K., Lolchuragi, D.S. et al. African elephants address one another with individually specific name-like calls. Nat Ecol Evol (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-024-02420-w

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