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Do Elephants Call ”Human!” to Alarm Herd Of Approaching Danger?

Source: Phys.org

Elephants flee the sound of local people whilst emitting the telltale 'human' alarm call rumble.

Elephants flee the sound of local people whilst emitting the telltale ‘human’ alarm call rumble.

African elephants make a specific alarm call in response to the danger of humans, according to a new study of wild elephants in Kenya.

Researchers from Oxford University, Save the Elephants, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom carried out a series of audio experiments in which recordings of the voices of the Samburu, a local tribe from North Kenya, were played to resting elephants. The elephants quickly reacted, becoming more vigilant and running away from the sound whilst emitting a distinctive low rumble.

When the team, having recorded this rumble [listen to the rumble here], played it back to a group of elephants they reacted in a similar way to the sound of the Samburu voices; running away and becoming very vigilant, perhaps searching for the potentially lethal threat of human hunters.

The new research, recently reported in PLOS ONE, builds on previous Oxford University research showing that elephants call ‘bee-ware’ and run away from the sound of angry bees. Whilst the ‘bee’ and ‘human’ rumbling alarm calls might sound similar to our ears there are important differences at low (infrasonic) frequencies that elephants can hear but humans can’t.

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