African Elephants Utilize Distinctive Names to Address Each Other, Recent Report Reveals

WASHINGTON (AP) — African elephants distinguish and react to each other using distinct nomenclature — a trait seldom observed in wild fauna, as delineated by fresh findings unveiled on Monday.

The appellations form part of the elephants’ subdued reverberations that reverberate over extensive tracts of the savanna. It is posited that creatures with intricate societal organizations and kinship collectives that periodically disperse and regroup are potentially more apt to utilize personal identifiers.

“Managing an expansive family necessitates the capacity to command, ‘Hey, Virginia, come here!’” remarked Stuart Pimm, an ecologist at Duke University who did not partake in the investigation.

The phenomenon of wild creatures addressing one another with personal monikers is exceedingly uncommon. Humans naturally have monikers, and our canines heed when summoned by theirs. Infant dolphins create distinctive calls known as signature whistles, and parrots might assign names as well.

Such naming species all share the extraordinary capability to adopt and articulate novel sounds over their lifetimes — an ability that elephants likewise exhibit.

Within the scope of the research in Nature Ecology & Evolution, zoologists applied machine learning to discern names from a compilation of audio recordings of savanna elephant communications cataloged within Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.

The team tracked the elephants using off-road vehicles to document who vocalized and who seemingly heeded — observing scenarios where a maternal elephant summoned her young or a leader beckoned a laggard who subsequently reconnected with the troupe.

With exclusive reliance on sound bites, the algorithm could foretell which elephant was being summoned 28% of the time, presumably due to the integration of its identifier. Contrastingly, when supplied with nonsensical inputs, the machine’s precision fell to a mere 8% of interactions.

“Similar to mankind, elephants communicate using monikers, yet presumably don’t do so in most of their vocal expressions, hence perfection isn’t anticipated,” expresses Mickey Pardo, the lead researcher and a biologist at Cornell University.

Elephant grumbles encompass frequencies below the human auditory threshold. The precise component of the grunt serving as the identifier remains unknown to the researchers.

The team’s conclusions were corroborated through playback experiments on individual elephants, who demonstrated a heightened reaction, with their ears flapping and trunks raised, to audio featuring their identifiers. Other times, elephants blatantly disregarded sounds addressed to their cohorts.

“Elephants exhibit profound sociability, perpetually engaging in dialogue and physical contact — this application of names likely strengthens their facility for communicating with particular individuals,” stated co-investigator and Colorado State University ecologist George Wittemyer, who also provides expert advice to the charitable organization Save the Elephants.

“We’ve merely nudged open an entryway to the inner workings of the elephant brain.”


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science and Scholarly Media. The AP bears exclusive accountability for all the content herein.

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