A new study has revealed one interesting fact about elephants. It says, these animals are able to decode the human voice.
According to the study, elephants are able to distinguish between human languages, can determine our gender and relative age and can also asses the threat, if any, imposed by the humans.
Moreover, the study found that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) can even differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child.
Study author Frans de Waal, from Emory University, said “Animals associating sounds with danger is nothing new – but making these fine distinctions in human voices is quite remarkable.”
Karen McComb, who is a behavioural ecologist at the University of Sussex in UK says, elephants in Amboseli National Park of Kenya are highly threatened by Maasai pastoralists. These elephants flee when they encounter Maasai men who are famous for wearing their distinctive red robes. He says these elephants are least bothered by other people on foot as they don’t find any big threat from them.
McComb and her colleagues decided to study if the Amboseli elephants could make distinctions between the voices of the Maasai and Kamba people.
For the study, the scientists recorded voice of men from the two ethnic groups, as well as Maasai women and boys, saying “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming”. The voices were recorded in their respective languages.
The research team then played back the voice recordings to 47 elephant family groups from a concealed loudspeaker.
Study co-author Graeme Shannon, from the Colorado State University, says, “From the get-go, the elephants responded differently to the Maasai and Kamba male voices.”
When they heard an adult Maasai man speaking, they were found to be more likely to retreat and bunch together, forming a defencive fortress around their young. And when they heard the voice of Kamba people, their reaction was not found as defensive. Moreover, the animals were also much less fearful on hearing the voices of Maasai women or boys.
The study was published in the journal PNAS.