Vocal Communication in African Elephants (Loxodonta Africana)

Zoo Biol. Mar-Apr 2010;29(2):192-209. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20251.

Abstract

Research on vocal communication in African elephants has increased in recent years, both in the wild and in captivity, providing an opportunity to present a comprehensive review of research related to their vocal behavior. Current data indicate that the vocal repertoire consists of perhaps nine acoustically distinct call types, "rumbles" being the most common and acoustically variable. Large vocal production anatomy is responsible for the low-frequency nature of rumbles, with fundamental frequencies in the infrasonic range. Additionally, resonant frequencies of rumbles implicate the trunk in addition to the oral cavity in shaping the acoustic structure of rumbles. Long-distance communication is thought possible because low-frequency sounds propagate more faithfully than high-frequency sounds, and elephants respond to rumbles at distances of up to 2.5 km. Elephant ear anatomy appears designed for detecting low frequencies, and experiments demonstrate that elephants can detect infrasonic tones and discriminate small frequency differences. Two vocal communication functions in the African elephant now have reasonable empirical support. First, closely bonded but spatially separated females engage in rumble exchanges, or "contact calls," that function to coordinate movement or reunite animals. Second, both males and females produce "mate attraction" rumbles that may advertise reproductive states to the opposite sex. Additionally, there is evidence that the structural variation in rumbles reflects the individual identity, reproductive state, and emotional state of callers. Growth in knowledge about the communication system of the African elephant has occurred from a rich combination of research on wild elephants in national parks and captive elephants in zoological parks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Elephants / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*