Elephants can recognise the gender and ethnicity of human voices
The animals can even tell an adult from a child just by hearing their voice
Heather Saul is a digital reporter for The Independent, currently working on the People desk. She has written news and features across a number of topics, paying particular attention to the activities of Isis and events in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Tuesday 11 March 2014
Wild elephants can recognise the gender and ethnicity of a person just by listening to the sound of their voice, a new study has found.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex found the animals demonstrated more fear when they heard the voices of adult Masai men, compared to Kamba men.
Karen McComb, a professor of animal behaviour and cognition at the University of Sussex, and her colleagues at the University went to Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where hundreds of wild elephants live among humans.
"Basically they have developed this very rich knowledge of the humans that they share their habitat with," Prof McComb explained.
The scientists used voice recordings of Maasai men, who on occasion come into conflict with elephants, and Kamba men, who are less of a threat to the animals.
The recordings contained the same phrase in two different languages: "Look over there. A group of elephants is coming."
The elephants reacted more defensively by retreating and gathering in a bunch to the Maasai language recording because it was associated with the more threatening human tribe, according to the study co-author Graeme Shannon, of Colorado State University.
"They are making such a fine-level discrimination using human language skills," Mr Shannon said. "They're able to acquire quite detailed knowledge. The only way of doing this is with an exceptionally large brain."
They repeated the experiment with recordings of Maasai men and women. Since women rarely spear elephants, the animals reacted less to the women's voices. The same thing happened when they substituted their voices with the voices of young boys.
"Making this kind of fine distinctions in human voice patterns is quite remarkable," said Emory University animal cognition expert Frans de Waal, who was not part of the study.
The study was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
- 1 Video shows how to turn your phone into a 3D hologram
- 2 Artist Jamie McCartney: How The Great Wall of Vagina is a stand against 'body fascism'
- 3 Katie Hopkins reveals fear she will die during brain surgery to cure epilepsy
- 4 'Gene drive': Scientists sound alarm over supercharged GM organisms which could spread in the wild and cause environmental disasters
- 5 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
Katie Hopkins reveals fear she will die during brain surgery to cure epilepsy
Tensions flare as Confederate flag supporter reaches for gun when confronted by protests – in pictures
'Gene drive': Scientists sound alarm over supercharged GM organisms which could spread in the wild and cause environmental disasters
The Vatican on space: The discovery of intelligent life wouldn't mean there's an alien Jesus somewhere in the universe
Tom Cruise: Reporters banned from asking actor about Scientology
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...
£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...
£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...