Elephants use names to call each other.

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Abstract: Wild African elephants use name-like calls to address each other, a rare ability among non-human animals. Researchers confirmed this by using machine learning to analyze elephant calls and observed that elephants respond specifically to calls made to them.

The discovery suggests that elephants have a complex communication system similar to that of humans. The study highlights the advanced cognitive abilities of elephants and underscores the importance of their conservation.

Important facts:

  1. Elephants use unique calls to address each other, similar to human names.
  2. Machine learning analysis confirmed the elephants' responses to name-like calls.
  3. This behavior indicates advanced cognitive abilities and abstract thinking in elephants.

Source: Colorado State University

Scientists at Colorado State University have called elephants by their names, and called the elephants back.

Wild African elephants call each other by name, a rare ability among non-human animals, according to a new study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Researchers at CSU, Save the Elephants and ElephantVoices used machine learning to confirm that elephant calls contain a name-like component identifying the intended recipient, which they suspected based on observation. .

When the researchers played back the recorded calls, the elephants responded affirmatively to the calls that were addressed to them by calling back or approaching the speaker. There was less response to calls for other elephants.

The ability to learn to produce new sounds is rare in animals but is essential for identifying individuals by name. Credit: Neuroscience News

“Dolphins and parrots call each other by 'name,' imitating the signature call of the speaker,” said lead author Michael Pardo, who is an NSF postdoctoral researcher at CSU and Save the Elephants, a research and conservation organization. was studied as Kenya

“In contrast, our data show that elephants do not rely on imitation of recipient calls to address each other, which is more akin to the way human names work.”

The ability to learn to produce new sounds is rare in animals but is essential for identifying individuals by name. Discretionary communication – where sound represents an idea but does not imitate it – greatly enhances communication ability and is considered a next-level cognitive skill.

“If all we could do was make the sounds we were talking about, that would be our way of communicating,” said co-author George Whitmeyer, professor at CSU's Warner College of Natural Resources and chairman of the scientific board. will greatly limit capacity.” Save the elephants.

Whitmeyer said the use of arbitrary sound labels indicates that elephants may be capable of abstract thought.

What is in the name?

Elephants and humans diverged tens of millions of years ago, but both species are socially complex and highly communicative. Elephants function within family units, social groups, and a larger clan structure similar to the complex social networks humans maintain.

Similar needs likely fueled the development of acoustic labeling — names of other individuals with abstract sounds — in both species, the researchers suggested.

“This is probably a case where we have similar pressures, mostly because of complex social interactions,” Whitmeyer said. “That's one of the interesting things about this study, it gives us some insight into possible drivers of why we developed these abilities.”

Elephants are talkative, communicating with each other vocally in addition to sight, smell and touch. Their calls provide a wealth of information, including the caller's identity, age, gender, emotional state and behavioral context.

Sounds – from trumpets playing to the low friction of their vocal cords – cover a wide frequency spectrum, including infrasonic sounds below the audible range of the human ear. Elephants can use these calls to coordinate group movements over long distances.

Kurt Freestrup, a research scientist in CSU's Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering, developed a new signal processing technique to detect subtle differences in call structure, and Freestrup and Pardo trained a machine learning model to correctly A way to identify which elephant was called. Based solely on its acoustic properties.

“Our finding that elephants are not just mimicking the sound associated with the individual they are calling was most interesting,” Freestrup said. “The ability to use arbitrary sound labels for other individuals suggests that elephant calls may have other types of labels or descriptors.”

Hiding on elephants

Elephants are expressive animals, Whitmeyer said, and their reactions are easy to read for those familiar with them. When the researchers returned the samples, the elephants responded “enthusiastically” and positively to the recordings of their friends and family members but did not respond enthusiastically or move toward calls sent to others, showing that They have recognized their names.

How did the elephants react when they found out that they had been pranked?

“They were probably temporarily confused by the playback but eventually they dismissed it as a freak incident and went on with their lives,” said Pardo, now at Cornell University.

The research also found that elephants, like people, do not always address each other by name in conversation. Calling an individual by name was more common over long distances or when adults were talking to calves.

The research spanned four years and included 14 months of intensive fieldwork in Kenya, following elephants in a vehicle and recording their vocalizations. About 470 separate calls were made from 101 unique callers with 117 unique receivers in Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.

Can we talk to elephants someday?

Much more data is needed to distinguish the names of the calls and to determine whether elephants name the things they interact with, such as food, water and places, the scientists said.

“Unfortunately, we can't talk to them into a microphone,” Whitmire said, noting the obstacles to gathering enough data.

The researchers said the new insights into elephant cognition and communication that emerged from the study strengthen the case for their conservation. Elephants are listed as endangered due to habitat loss from poaching and growing ivory. Because of their size, they require a lot of space and can be destructive to property and dangerous to people.

While interacting with pachyderms is a distant dream, Wittemyer said being able to communicate with them could be a game changer for their conservation.

“It's hard to live with elephants, when you're trying to share the landscape and they're eating crops,” Whitmeyer said. “I would like to be able to warn them, 'Don't come here. If you come here, you will be killed.'”

About this animal communication research news

the author: Jaime de Luce
Source: Colorado State University
contact: Jayme DeLoss – Colorado State University
Image: This image is credited to Neuroscience News.

Original Research: closed access
“African elephants address each other with individually specific name-like calls,” by Michael Pardo et al. Nature Ecology and Evolution


African elephants address each other with distinctive name-like calls.

Personal names are a universal feature of human language, yet there are few analogies in other species. While dolphins and parrots address conspecifics by mimicking the calls of the addressee, human names are not usually mimics of the sounds of the named individual.

Labeling objects or persons without relying on imitation of sounds made by the referent greatly increases the expressive power of language.

Thus, if analogues of dissimilar names are found in other species, this may have important implications for our understanding of language evolution.

Here we present evidence that wild African elephants address each other with individually distinctive calls, perhaps without relying on recipient imitation.

We used machine learning to show that the recipient of a call can be predicted from the acoustic structure of the call, regardless of how similar the call is to the recipient's voice. Furthermore, elephants responded differently to playbacks of calls that were originally addressed to them compared to calls made to another individual.

Our findings provide evidence for individual address specificity in elephants. They further suggest that, unlike other nonhuman animals, elephants probably do not rely on imitation of receiver calls to address each other.

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