HomeTop StoriesElephants Use Unique Names to Communicate, New Study Reveals

Elephants Use Unique Names to Communicate, New Study Reveals

Kenya – June 11, 2024 – Elephants, long admired for their intelligence and social structures, have now been discovered to call each other by unique names, according to a groundbreaking study released on Monday. This research marks elephants as the first non-human animals to use names that do not involve imitation, unlike dolphins and parrots, which mimic sounds.

Pioneering Research Unveils Elephants’ Naming Abilities

An international team of researchers employed artificial intelligence algorithms to analyze the vocalizations of two wild herds of African savannah elephants in Kenya. The study, conducted between 1986 and 2022 at Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park, identified 469 distinct calls. These included 101 elephants issuing a call and 117 receiving one.

Michael Pardo, the study’s lead author and a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, explained the significance of the findings: “Our research not only shows that elephants use specific vocalizations for each individual, but that they recognize and react to a call addressed to them while ignoring those addressed to others.”

Elephants Exhibit Complex Communication Skills

The study revealed that elephants often use names over long distances, particularly when adults are addressing young elephants. Adults were found to be more likely to use names than calves, suggesting that learning this skill takes years. The most common call identified was described as “a harmonically rich, low-frequency sound.”

When researchers played a recording of an elephant’s name called by a friend or family member, the animal responded energetically. However, the same elephant showed little interest when other names were played. This behavior indicates that elephants do not merely imitate sounds but instead use unique, non-imitative calls for individual identification.

Implications for Understanding Elephant Intelligence

George Wittemyer, the senior study author, highlighted the broader implications of these findings: “The evidence provided here that elephants use non-imitative sounds to label others indicates they have the ability for abstract thought.”

Frank Pope, CEO of Save the Elephants, added, “That elephants use names for one another is likely only the start of the revelations to come. This discovery underscores the complex social lives and communication skills shared between humans and elephants.”

Call for Further Research

The researchers emphasized the need for further studies to explore the evolutionary origins of this unique communication ability. Given that the ancestors of elephants diverged from primates and cetaceans around 90 million years ago, understanding this trait could provide significant insights into the evolution of complex communication systems in animals.

This study opens new avenues for understanding the cognitive and social capabilities of elephants, revealing yet another layer of their remarkable intelligence and social behavior.

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