Animals With Heart - How Elephants Communicate and Use Language
Talk Like an Elephant
We have been finding that several species of animals communicate with humans on purpose. Most recently, in March 2011, a group of dolphins alerted humans to a half-drowned dog caught on a sand bar near the shore. The dolphins raised a ruckus of vocalizations in the direction of the man and woman walking along the shoreline, until the people noticed the dog and helped.
Whales in the Atlantic Ocean learned the tune to Amazing Grace by swimming beneath the hulls of slave ships in the 1500s and hearing the inmates singing it to an African lyric. They reproduced the melody in their vocalizations of whale song and passed it to their offspring for several generations. Nearly 400 years later, in the late 1980s, scientists recorded Atlantic area whale song, factored out the static, and playing it back, listened to the tune, Amazing Grace.
Scientists, if they cannot talk to extraterrestrials through the decades-old SETI project, search out other species besides humans to speak with on earth. For example, researchers took microphones from UC-Santa Cruz and its Institute of Marine Sciences to Ano Nuevo State Park. There, they recorded the vocalizations of at least 160 elephant seals, The people hope to make logical sense of the roars, grunts, and other sounds that seem to organize elephant seal culture and protect the herd.
It has come to light in the 2000s and 2010s that elephants also communicate and form long-term relationships. Now famous is the story of two elephants - one older, one younger - meeting up in a US animal sancutary after separation from a circus career long ago. Both female, they are now spending their retirement together with interlocked trunks and such. Elephants can cry. They not only cry, but also grieve the deaths of their companions and families, and have a tonal language of their own.
Are dolphins, whales, elephant seals, and elephants related? Evolution says that the elephant is related to a tiny, ancient shrew the size of the elephantine toe. Very hard to imagine. DNA research also proves that humans are very closely related to the sea anemone. Also hard to imagine. Returning to the original question - are dolphins and whales simply elephants-without-legs -- Or does it matter? Regardless, the species seem to have similar verbal communications schemes, and whale song does often sound to me like elephants under the waves.
Elephant Grief and Remembrance
When I reviewed the new film Beastly from CBS Films, I enjoyed a scene in the movie from the local zoo. A teen couple breaks into an exhibit at night and watches a short documentary on elephants. The short features a mother elephant returning to the place where her two offspring died a year previously.
The elephant recognizes their bones from scent and spends time looking at them and handling them with the end of her trunk in grief and remembrance. Other elephants with her gather around as well. The gathering seems much like a wake and these group activities are studied long-term in Africa by animal research teams.
Pachyderm Grief and Celebration
In reading the Jungle Book of Rudyard Kipling, I saw that elephants have heart and spirit. Kipling wrote this in 1894, a long time before scientists waved microphones about the beaches of elephant seals. The story I reference is Toomai of the Elephants.
The young mahout (trainer) Toomai listened to the legends of the midnight elephant dance in the middle of the jungle forest late at night. Few or no people had ever seen it. Was the story true? Toomai believes that it is. It is a rare event, but he wants to see it, the magical Elephant Dance.
Older trainers attempted to take him out of trying to find it in the dangerous might jungle. However, Toomai's own elephant took him there one night, providing him with his own stories to tell. It was a celebration of dancing that seemed to appreciate life and pay tribute to absent elephant friends.
Korean Elephant Talk
In 2003, National Geographic News published material about the work of Joyce Poole, a researcher studying the communicators of elephants. She had already been at the task for 27 years in the Amboseli National Park of Kenya.
At least 70 differing sounds were recorded by 2003, some with frequencies to low to be registered by human hearing. Nearly three times as many gestures and related actions were also recorded. This project was attached to an older, larger project begun in 1972.
A book has been published that contains collected data and other information from the early 1970s to the 2010s about our elephant friends. It is : a long-term perspective on a long-lived mammal. This is a book that never fails to move me, no matter how many times I have read it. The Amboseli Elephants
In November, 2008, Dr. Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices visited ARK 2000 and gave a fascinating presentation about elephant behavior and vocalization.
In Thailand, Motala, the Survivor Who Smiles
In 1999, Motala was a working elephant in Thailand, engaged in the logging industry. However, landmines had been distributed by warring factions and they were hurting elephants. Motala stepped on one, shredding her left front foot. However, her handlers guided her out of the forest as she struggled on three feet. It took three days and many miles.
She was taken to the hospital of FAE, Friends of the Asian Elephant, where she was treated. She was crying when she got there and had been for some time.
The people of Thailand collected money to send to the hospital to help Motala recover. Pictures, some of which show Motala with a definite smile, and film footage of her progress have been displayed oline regularly since that time, but a full length film was released for 2011: "The Eyes of Thailand."
Motala has a prosthetic leg and is a mentor to a younger, injured elephant.
Credits and Contacts:
- Soraida Salwala, Head of Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE)
- Dr. Therchai Jivacite, the Prostheses Foundation
- FaceBook: http://facebook.com/eyesofthailand
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/eyesofthailand
Motala is in Lompang Province
The annual World Elephant Day is August 12.
- How Elephants Communicate. ElephantVoice.com; 2019.
After stepping on landmine, elephant gets prosthetic leg. USA Today; 2016.
- Thai Elephant Motala Friends of the Asian Elephant Soraida Salwala Founder
Motala Updates Elephant Landmine Thailand Hospital Prosthesis Artificial Foot
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Patty Inglish MS