The Secret Language of … Elephants

The Elephant Listening Project is putting elephant sounds together with behavior to create an elephant language dictionary.

CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” just ran a segment (video also available) on the central African forest elephants. The segment profiles Andrea Turkalo’s two decades of observing these elephants, and categorizing their sounds and actions. Many of the sounds are at levels below the pitches that humans can hear.

The Elephant Listening Project is associated with the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Cornell University researcher Katy Payne began the Elephant Listening Project. She’s building an “elephant dictionary” that might help researchers learn how many elephants there are in an area, how they interact, what they’re doing—and if they’re reproducing. Turkalo frequently travels to Cornell to present data and observations from her work in the field.

(© Andrea Turkalo)

The “elephant dictionary” itself is in its infancy and work continues. The good side effect of this is that at least this particular batch of elephants has escaped poachers due to the fact that others are watching them.

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