African elephants use names to call each other

We are not the only ones who use names to communicate with our peers. Elephants also do this through arbitrary vocal labels. This is demonstrated by a new latest scientific study, which deals with a topic already widely discussed by researchers

Previous research hinted at this possibility, and now a new scientific study confirms that African elephants use names to call each other—a rare and extraordinary ability.

This groundbreaking discovery was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. The research was conducted over four years by Colorado State University in collaboration with Save the Elephants and ElephantVoices in the Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.

Machine learning reveals elephants’ naming ability

Using machine learning, a team of researchers demonstrated that African elephants can identify each other by name, a hypothesis that had been previously suggested through natural observations.

The scientists developed a new model to uncover more details about arbitrary communication among elephants, expanding our understanding of these highly intelligent creatures.

Complex and fascinating communication

Elephants share various types of information within their social groups through vocalizations. These calls, although inaudible to humans, contain crucial information.

Researchers analyzed these calls and understood which elephant a specific call was directed to. They then played back the calls to verify the responses.

During the study, 470 distinct calls made by 101 individuals and directed at 117 recipients were analyzed.

elephants identify each other by names

@George Wittemyer via CSU

Elephants recognize their names

The elephants responded to the calls without showing excessive involvement or surprise, suggesting that the use of names is common among African elephants.

The data revealed that elephants rely more on names when calling over long distances or communicating with calves. Unlike dolphins and parrots, which imitate sounds, elephants produce new sounds as names.

Researchers believe elephants might be capable of abstract thinking. The use of arbitrary vocal labels could be a valuable clue.

Future research needed

Currently, it is unknown if these names are used solely for other elephants or for objects as well. Further research is necessary to gather more data, deepen our understanding of elephants, and offer them better protection.

Perhaps, one day, we will even be able to communicate with them.

Source: Nature Ecology and Evolution 

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