Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that elephants have a knack for imitation, whether it's the sounds of other elephants or trucks.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and coming up: Field research in quest of the simple life—an MIT scientist goes Amish. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.
CHU: Humans and songbirds can do it. Dolphins and bats can, too. Now, researchers have found imitation is also a form of communication for elephants.
Collaborating scientists in Kenya and Massachusetts recorded the vocalizations of two African elephants from two very different backgrounds. What they heard was nothing like that of the trumpeting call of the average African elephant.
Calimero, a 23-year-old male, was raised in a zoo with two Asian elephants for 18 years. Scientists found most of his vocalizations resembled the chirping noises typical of his Asian zoo-mates, rather than the deeper calls of his African ancestors. They say this mimicking might be his way of fitting in with a social group.
Also, a ten-year-old female Mlaika lived on the Savannah plains of Kenya with orphaned elephants, two miles from a busy highway. The majority of Mlaika's calls sounded less like an elephant and more like the revving of a truck engine. Researchers believe Mlaika learned to imitate her "highway friends" at night, when the sounds of passing trucks dominated the landscape.
It's the first time this mimicking trait has been found among these huge mammals, suggesting upbringing could shape their vocal repertoire. These skills may also help elephants recognize each other and bond as part of a group. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Jennifer Chu.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.