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GESTURES AND GREETINGS USED BY ELEPHANTS SHOW INTENTIONAL MULTIMODAL COMMUNICATION.

We're always keen to read new studies on elephant behaviour and to learn more about this fascinating and magnificent keystone species, so we found the recent report Multimodal communication and audience directedness in the greeting behaviour of semi-captive African savannah elephants very insightful.


The study, published in the journal Communications Biology, was based on a month of observing African savannah elephants living in the Jafuta Reserve in Zimbabwe in 2021. The researchers watched how the elephants greeted one another, and the gestures and vocal cues they used. They observed 1,014 physical actions taken by elephants engaged in a greeting and 268 vocalizations.

Stock photo



As noted in an article in Phys.org 'the researchers found that elephants place importance on greeting one another. When two elephants who have not seen each other for a while meet, they both engage in apparently meaningful behavior. Gestures included swinging the trunk or using it to touch, ear-flapping and ear-spreading.'


"Rumblings and gestures were often combined. Behaviors during greetings also sometimes involved urination, defecation and secreting sweat in the temporal gland, which emits odors into the air...The research team concludes that the gestures and vocalizations used by the elephants appear to be part of a complicated system of communication used by the elephants to convey information during encounters."

As the study says in closing, this data "advances our understanding of the emergence of first-order intentionality and multimodal communication across taxa." A fascinating window into the world of the African savannah elephant and how they communicate, and another example of the intelligence and complexity of this mega-herbivore.


To read more of the detailed findings of this report, click on the links to the study and an associated article in this blog post.


Team Pangea


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