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We’ve long recognized that elephants are highly intelligent, deeply social creatures. They’re known for their intense empathy and grieving rituals; experts have observed elephants mourning the loss of of their fellow elephants as well as their human and canine companions. Now, scientists are exploring the complexities of how elephants communicate, and have discovered that the incredible creatures use distinct warning sounds to alert herd members of different impending dangers.

Back in 2010, researchers from University of Oxford and Save the Elephants found that elephants warn each other about approaching bees by emitting a rumbling alarm sound.  The discovery was made as part of an ongoing Kenyan project to reduce conflict between human farmers and elephants. Now, these Kenyan-based scientists have discovered the elephants making a second, distinct warning call when humans pose a threat.

Researchers recorded the voices of the Samburu, a local North Kenyan tribe, and played the audio recordings to relaxing elephants. The elephants immediately ran away from the sound while making a low rumbling noise. Scientists recorded the sound, and later determined that the “Samburu alarm rumble” is distinct from the previously discovered “bee alarm rumble.” Even more intriguingly, the elephants responded with more fear and aggression to signs of Masaai pastoralists, who are known to kill elephants, than to Kamba agriculturalists, who are less threatening.

“We concede the possibility that these alarm calls are simply a by-product of elephants running away, that is, just an emotional response to the threat that other elephants pick up on,” said Dr. Lucy King, who co-led the study.  “On the other hand, we think it is also possible that the rumble alarms are akin to words in human language, and that elephants voluntarily and purposefully make those alarm calls to warn others about specific threats. Our research results here show that African elephant alarm calls can differentiate between two types of threat and reflect the level of urgency of that threat.”

Image Source: Mister Queue/Flickr

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40 comments on “Elephants Have Specific Alarm Word for ‘Human’”

Click to add comment
Omelika Kuumba
4 Years Ago


California Against Animal Cruelty
4 Years Ago

Bless them, all of them.

Amanda Diamond
4 Years Ago

Intelligent! at a sanctuary in Kerala, a keeper told me that the new elephant, brought from the North can learn the local language in just 1 month of training…..

Anita Virginillo
4 Years Ago

All animals should have a secret code for humans, we simply cannot be trusted.

Alexandre Nogueira Zovico
17 Mar 2014

Perfect definition for the race of was on the same condition of Pigs and Anchovies in the 'food chain'! www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/12/08/249227181/between-pigs-and-anchovies-where-humans-rank-on-the-food-chain Poor fools, the majority thinking which are 'rational animals' and act as beasts!

Maja Zwicky-Saudhi
4 Years Ago

No wonder! If I were another specie, I would have the same!

Carmen Gentry
4 Years Ago

It probably translates into...."run! barbaric, greedy humans approaching:"

Christina Wright Hanson
4 Years Ago


Michael P Caldwell
4 Years Ago

they can say"assholes"!

Sheikh Mohammad Amin
4 Years Ago


Oilda Barreto
4 Years Ago

It really means STUPID HUMAN


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