Elephants Call Each Other by ‘Name,’ Study Suggests

Elephants Call Each Other by Name
A new study claims that elephants call each other by arbitrary names like humans do. Credit: Vaughan Leiberum / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

A recent study revealed that elephants might have a surprising ability – calling each other by individual names. Scientists listened to 469 elephant calls, known as “rumbles,” from wild African elephants in Kenya. These calls were tricky for humans to understand, so researchers used artificial intelligence to help.

They discovered something remarkable: elephants seem to have a “name-like” part in their calls. When they replayed these calls, individual elephants recognized them and responded accordingly. The study was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution journal.

Mickey Pardo, the main researcher of the study, explained that elephants are using what seems like a made-up symbol to talk about each other. This discovery suggests that elephants understand the link between the sound they make and the specific elephant they’re talking about.

Elephants use arbitrary names like humans

Other animals like dolphins and parakeets also communicate with each other. However, unlike dolphins and parakeets, elephants do not imitate the sounds of the individual they are talking to. Instead, their names are like ours, arbitrary, such as “Emily” or “John”.

The researchers, including experts from Colorado State University and organizations like Save the Elephants and ElephantVoices, observed that elephants react differently when they hear their own “name.”

They approach faster, make sounds sooner, and communicate more when they hear their name compared to when another elephant’s name is played. This suggests that elephants can recognize and respond to their own names.

The researchers couldn’t pinpoint specific names for individual elephants, nor did they confirm if different elephants used the same name for one another. The next phase, according to the authors, is to gather more data to understand how elephant names are formed and used.

Animal cognition experts believe that naming indicates high levels of intelligence. Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, a researcher at Harvard Medical School with thirty years of experience studying elephants, sees the findings as evidence of elephants’ ability to imagine another elephant and talk to them, even if they can’t see them. She suggests that elephants might have a broader capability for using language.

Elephants found in Africa can live up to 70 years

Pardo, now a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University, emphasizes how the findings underscore the significance of elephants’ social connections. He suggests that elephants only bother to learn each other’s names when they genuinely care about and need to interact with them.

Experts have acknowledged elephants’ remarkable cognitive abilities and capacity for empathy for a long time. These large animals, found in parts of Africa and Asia, can live up to 70 years in the wild.

Elephants have been observed mourning the loss of a community member and displaying joy when reunited with friends after being apart for a while, as reported by The Washington Post.

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