Acoustic cues to individuality in wild male adult African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana)

PeerJ. 2021 Jan 22:9:e10736. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10736. eCollection 2021.


The ability to recognize conspecifics plays a pivotal role in animal communication systems. It is especially important for establishing and maintaining associations among individuals of social, long-lived species, such as elephants. While research on female elephant sociality and communication is prevalent, until recently male elephants have been considered far less social than females. This resulted in a dearth of information about their communication and recognition abilities. With new knowledge about the intricacies of the male elephant social structure come questions regarding the communication basis that allows for social bonds to be established and maintained. By analyzing the acoustic parameters of social rumbles recorded over 1.5 years from wild, mature, male African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana) we expand current knowledge about the information encoded within these vocalizations and their potential to facilitate individual recognition. We showed that social rumbles are individually distinct and stable over time and therefore provide an acoustic basis for individual recognition. Furthermore, our results revealed that different frequency parameters contribute to individual differences of these vocalizations.

Keywords: Acoustic cues; African elephant; Individual recognition; Loxodonta africana; Vocal communication.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Branco Weiss Society in Science Fellowship to Hannah S. Mumby. Fieldwork was further supported Cambridge-Africa Alborada grant to Hannah S. Mumby and Michelle D. Henley. Hannah S. Mumby received a Drapers’ Company Fellowship through Pembroke College, Cambridge. Support of Elephants Alive was provided by the USFWS, the Oak Foundation, Save the Elephants and many private donors, who enabled fieldwork and the long-term ID study as well as the collaring of individual study animals (to MDH). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.