We all know elephants have good memories. But did you know that African elephants are so clever that they can distinguish between different human languages and consciously keep their distance from people they see as a threat?
The recorded voices were played for hundreds of elephants across 47 family groups. In each case, the phrase was the same: ‘Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming.’
But the elephants’ response was different for different groups of people.
When they heard adult Maasai men – who are cattle herders and sometimes come into conflict with elephants over water and grazing – the elephants became alert and moved cautiously away. If they heard young Maasai boys or women, or even the voices of Kamba men – who are farmers and employees of the park and seldom a danger to elephants – the elephants showed no anxiety.
The research also showed that groups with older matriarchs were the most skilled at assessing the threat from the different human groups. This reinforces the idea that learning plays a huge role in elephant behaviour.
For more about this study, see the report by Kerry Sheridan of AFP.
You may also be interested in this video showing how elephants react to a recording of lions roaring.
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