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Elephants use names to directly talk with each other, Colorado State University researchers discover

Elephants use names to directly talk with each other, Colorado State University researchers discover
Elephants use names to directly talk with each other, Colorado State University researchers discover 03:11

New research recently published by Colorado State University has unveiled African elephants can use names in order to communicate directly with each other. 

The research, which also included "Save The Elephants" and "Elephant Voices," used recording devices and speakers in order to determine whether or not individual elephants responded to specific calls.

"We found that elephants can address one another with name-like calls," said Mickey Pardo, a researcher at Colorado State University. 

Pardo and his fellow researchers traveled to Kenya in order to study African elephants. They recorded calls, most of which sound like low-tone rumbles or growls, and then played them over speakers at a later time near the elephants. They recorded the elephants reactions on video, which was shared with CBS News Colorado.


As the sounds were played, even if the elephants were grouped together, typically only one individual elephant would turn their head toward the speaker. And, the same elephant would often times then verbally respond while the others either remained silent or didn't even turn their heads. 

"When we played those calls back to the elephants we found they would respond more strongly to a call that was originally addressed to them," Pardo told CBS News Colorado's Dillon Thomas. "That means they can tell, just by hearing a call, it was intended for them."

Pardo said the team was able to slowly learn which recorded calls were intended for which elephant based on their repetitive responses to the sound when played.

While it isn't clear exactly what is being communicated in the sounds, researchers were able to confirm that the tone was able to convey to individual elephants whether or not they were the target of the message.

"It was this eureka moment of, 'wow, this really is a statistically significant difference,'" Pardo said. 

It has been long-known that elephants can communicate in rich detail with each other. However, this was the first time that humans have proven they can also direct their communications to one other elephant, or the group. 

While rare, there is proof of other species having similar capabilities. Pardo said that includes some species of parrots, bottlenose dolphins and possibly even some bats. 

Pardo said, in their research, the team learned caregiving elephants tended to use the name calls more commonly than others. 

"Mothers will make these coo-rumbles to a calf repeatedly, over and over and over again, shortly after giving birth. Which has made us wonder if that is the moment of the calf being given its name," Pardo said.


 Pardo said this discovery only underscores his belief that elephants have much greater intellectual capabilities than humans realize. He said he hopes to use some of the team's findings to further advocate for reform in U.S. law that would give more freedom and protections to elephants that are in zoos or other enclosures. 

"This finding, and others, are so compelling about what they tell us about their intelligence and autonomy as individuals. I think it does have profound ethical implications that should be considered as part of the law," Pardo said. 

Video in this report was provided by Colorado State University and independent photographer and videographer Bill Masure. 

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