Scientists discover when elephants talk they may use names like humans

A new study published in a peer-reviewed journal suggests elephant communication is much more sophisticated than previously thought.

1 minute & 13 seconds read time

Researchers have used machine learning techniques, the fundamental technology powering artificial intelligence, to analyze hundreds of wild elephants that were captured between 1986 and 2022.

Scientists discover when elephants talk they may use names like humans 995

The team published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, which states that researchers looked at how each elephant "rumbles." These rumblings are believed to be the primary way elephants communicate with each other, and the study has broken the rumbles into three categories: greeting, caregiving, and contact calls.

While there are other prominent rumble categories, such as "let's go," the team found the aforementioned three types of rumble are most likely tied to names between elephants. Notably, the study found through the power of AI analysis that elephants appear to be attaching names to these rumbles, which is very different from imitation communication that is used by dolphins or parrots to communicate.

How did the researchers discover this? The team recorded and replayed calls from specific elephants and discovered that mother elephants would raise their head and call back to the replayed sound when it came from her baby daughter elephant.

While sounding like a small discovery, the distinction between a mother acknowledging and responding specifically to calls from her daughter indicates the mother elephant knows that call is for them, leading researchers to believe that elephant communication could be much more sophisticated than previously thought.

That said, the general consensus on elephant communication is hardly unanimous, with some researchers debating that elephants are incapable of naming each other. Regardless, studies such as the one highlighted in this article show progress is being made in understanding elephant communication.

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Jak joined the TweakTown team in 2017 and has since reviewed 100s of new tech products and kept us informed daily on the latest science, space, and artificial intelligence news. Jak's love for science, space, and technology, and, more specifically, PC gaming, began at 10 years old. It was the day his dad showed him how to play Age of Empires on an old Compaq PC. Ever since that day, Jak fell in love with games and the progression of the technology industry in all its forms. Instead of typical FPS, Jak holds a very special spot in his heart for RTS games.

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