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The secret language of elephants

By Aditi Chengappa     Feb 26, 2010 in Environment
Behind the raging trumpet sounds lies the quiet side of elephants who as discovered, seem to have a secret language that is inaudible to humans.
Elephants rarely leave a stone unturned and in the most literal way, as their trumpeting can shake the very grounds of the jungle. But in a curious discovery, scientists have found the majestic creatures communicate through a series of deep growl calls, most of which are inaudible to human ears.
In the Daily Mail report:
Scientists are attempting to decode this secret language that demonstrates how elephants are "perfectly attuned to low frequency jungle rumbles- and to the messages of love and lust they contain."
To better understand the 'infrasonic' calls, researchers at San Diego Zoo attached collars with ultra-sensitive microphones and a GPS tracking system to eight female elephants. This allowed them to compare the audio data with the actions of the elephant. The team discovered heavily pregnant females growl to inform the rest of the herd that they are about to go into labour. It is theorized that the call alerts elephants to scope the area for predators, and to protect the newborn by encircling it.
"Infrasonic calls also explain how elephants coordinate their behaviour over great distances- and are crucial for romance." A claim that can be made based on an infrasonic invitation for sex that a female emits when she is in season which is only a matter of four days every four years. The call, which lasts a few seconds, can be heard by males more than two miles across the Savannah.
Evidently, elephants also use the infrasonic rumbles to identify and make contact, "some matriarchs can identify up to 100 other creatures by the sound of their 'voice'."
The team, led by Dr Matt Anderson, aimed to analyze these calls in order to understand exactly what the animals were saying to each other.
The elephants vocalisations were recorded for a 24 hour period each week for 10 weeks, and the combined with observations and GPS data to bring the sounds in context.
Dr Anderson, director of behavioural biology at the park , said," We thought elephants had a certain vocabulary, but we are finding it is much larger than anyone realised." He added that the information could greatly aid researchers in creating a more stress-free environment for elephants being bred in captivity.
The team plans to create a catalogue of elephant sounds as part of the research.
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