Elephants Greet Family & Friends

An aunt (Kate I, at left) greets her niece (Tess II, at right). Greeting ceremonies, with many rumbles and much flapping of the ears, are common when relatives come together at a forest clearing.

One of the most striking forms of elephant vocal communication occurs when family groups come together and burst into a chorus of greeting rumbles. Recent work has shown that elephants are able to distinguish familiar from unfamiliar voices, confirming the long-held hunch that greeting rumbles involve recognition of another individual or family.

The illustration below is a sound spectrogram of greeting rumbles exchanged between the two African forest elephants pictured above, recorded in the summer of 2000 at a mineral-rich forest clearing in the Dzanga National Park, Central African Republic. The photo above shows the elephants as they made these calls. Both adult females, Kate 1 and Tess 2, displayed stereotypical greeting behavior including ear flapping, standing side by side, and alternating calls.

To hear the recording, click the control buttons below. Each rumble appears as a crescent-shape in the spectrogram (as the sound plays, an indicator line will show the current location on the spectrogram). Because the elephants were very close to the microphone, many harmonics are visible at multiples of the lowest frequency. The rumbles overlap in several places, as is typical of elephant greetings. (When you play the sound, you may also hear the whispers of the Elephant Listening Project team, "It's a greeting".)

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© Melissa Groo

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