Adorable one-month-old elephant at Austrian zoo is being studied by scientists to try and find out how the gentle giants talk to each other
- The baby animal, named Kibal, is learning to speak to her mother at Vienna Zoo
- Researchers are using hi-tech microphones to detect audible communication
- Their lowest frequency component is in infrasound range so inaudible to humans
An adorable one-month-old baby elephant has become part of a science experiment to find out how the gentle giants communicate.
Researchers at the world’s oldest zoo in Austria are using hi-tech microphones to try and detect how the baby, named Kibal, is learning to speak to her mum.
The research project involves recording communication between the baby elephant and mum and the equipment is searching for signs of both audible and inaudible communication.
Subject of a research project: The baby animal, pictured here and named Kibal, is learning to speak to her mother at Vienna Zoo, Austria, where the study is taking place
Refugees: The baby elephant was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and mother Numbi, 20, already has raised two baby elephants after coming to Vienna in 2009
HOW DO ELEPHANTS COMMUNICATE?
Elephants most commonly communicate through vocalised sounds – but these are infrasonic, which means the frequency is so low that they are inaudible to human ears.
However, in other cases, elephants trumpet to signal distress or excitement. They also make roaring sounds when charging. Both of these are loud audible to humans.
Non-audibly, they also communicate by using their bodies – such as touching each other with their trunks, standing tall or spreading their ears.
Christopher Gorofsky, 24, is carrying out some of the research as part of his Masters.
His work is part of a long-term project carried out by a team from the University of Vienna and funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).
He said the zoo was the perfect place because in the wild it was very difficult and dangerous to approach mother elephants and their young.
Project manager Angela Stöger-Horwath from the Department of Cognitive Biology said: ‘We want to learn which sounds are innate and which are learned. We also want to see if she’s copying her sounds from her mother.’
She added that elephants have different sound types. The best known is the trumpet.
But she added: ‘The most common sound is the so-called rumbling, that sounds rather like the engine of a truck.
‘The lowest frequency component is in the infrasound range and is not audible to us humans, but with our special equipment we can also record the deep sounds.’
The subject of the thesis is ‘Early mother-child communication among African elephants in the zoo’ and Mr Gorofsky has been given unlimited access to all areas of the elephant park the same as keepers in order to record what he needs.
Sounds good: Christopher Gorofsky is carrying out some of the research as part of his Masters
Monitoring: The mum and baby elephant;Scientists using sensitive microphones have been recording the way this baby female elephant is learning to speak to her mum
He said: ‘In the beginning Kibali made hardly any sounds. Communication however since then been steadily increasing. If she wants to drink with her mother, she makes a kind of squeak.’
But he also noted that communication included body language which was used by Kibali to indicate whether she wanted to drink or play, or indicate she has heard when her mother calls for her.
The baby elephant was named after a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and mother Numbi, 20, already has raised two baby elephants after coming to Vienna in 2009.
The pair were chosen because Numbi was clearly experienced enough to make her developing relationship with the new baby of interest to the research team.
DO ELEPHANTS HAVE HUMAN-LIKE PERSONALITIES?
New research has proven that elephants’ emotional characteristics are similar to those of humans.
It turns out the animals have distinct personalities.
They can be aggressive, attentive and outgoing.
For the study scientists asked elephant riders, or mahouts, to answer questions about the behaviors of the animals they worked with each day.
A new study has found that elephants, like humans, have distinct personalities. They can be aggressive, attentive and outgoing. Pictured is an elephant with its mahout, or rider, who the animal works with each day in Myanmar’s timber industry
Dr Martin Steltmann, who worked on the new report, explained how his team defined the traits that categorize elephants.
He said: ‘Attentiveness is related to how an elephant acts in and perceives its environment.
‘Sociability describes how an elephant seeks closeness to other elephants and humans and how popular they are as social partners.
‘Aggressiveness shows how aggressively an elephant acts towards other elephants and how much it interferes in their social interaction.’
Dr Steltmann’s team is hopeful the new research can aid in elephant conservation efforts.