Elephants call each other with specific calls, like names – rts.ch

Elephants call each other with specific calls, like names – rts.ch
Elephants call each other with specific calls, like names – rts.ch

In the Kenyan savannah, elephants are capable of addressing a fellow elephant directly, such as by calling its name. American researchers made this discovery by analyzing hundreds of hours of trumpeting recordings using artificial intelligence.

Intelligent, expressive, these pachyderms are known to be very social, with a complex family structure. A sociability which also materializes through their trumpeting.

This allowed researchers at Colorado State University to make a fascinating discovery. “In a large group, a female may make a call to which all the other elephants will respond,” explains Professor George Wittemyer. “But sometimes, with a similar call, none will respond except one. This indicates that elephants have a way of addressing a conspecific in a targeted manner.” In other words, to call each other by what may sound like a name.

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Hundreds of hours of recording

To reach this conclusion, scientists first, over several years, recorded 470 exchanges involving more than a hundred elephants in a nature reserve in Kenya. They then screened this data through an artificial intelligence (machine learning) system, with the idea of ​​trying to recognize characteristic sound patterns. And they managed to isolate what look like distinctive calls between two individuals. The results of their research were published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The elephants communicate with each other by calling out to each other with personalized trumpeting calls.

This method of analysis is very powerful, as Klaus Züberbühler, professor of biology at the University of Neuchâtel and language expert, points out. He also uses it in Africa, but on chimpanzees: “With the help of artificial intelligence, we can spot subtleties in sounds that are otherwise not accessible. And what my colleagues have done really well is “is to replay these sounds to individuals to compare reactions. In doing so, they have made great progress,” comments the biologist.

>> Also read: What if artificial intelligence allowed us to communicate with animals?

Conclusive experience

During an experiment, American scientists broadcast to an elephant a recording of her daughter appearing to be speaking to her: she raised her head and responded with a trumpet. But when they played this same elephant the recording of a call from her daughter, this time intended for another elephant, the mother listened, but without trumpeting in response. Which, according to American researchers, demonstrates that these pachyderms can call to each other directly.

A similar capacity for interaction had already been observed in dolphins and certain species of parrots. But to interact with their loved ones, these animals only imitate the noises produced by the recipients of their message.

Elephants seem to attribute specifically and arbitrarily chosen sounds to their conspecifics. Enough to broaden the field of study and ask new questions, according to Klaus Zuberbühler: “For example, is there a function of this type of communication? Do they call each other for a purpose? , for example to meet up, share information about the environment? This opens up a new dimension of the social wealth of elephants.”

Olivier Dessibourg/friend

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