Elephants use a variety of techniques when they are confronted by predators. They may try intimidation tactics, including highly effective (and noisy) mobbing, or they may bunch together and take evasive action. Although much has been said about the complex defensive behaviour of elephants, very little has been written about the variety of sounds they produce in these situations, which may include a variety of rumbles, snorts, trumpets, and roars. Our observations indicate that their particular response to predators is communicated, in part, via fine-tuned signaling.When a family group is exposed to an unusual or disturbing situation, the elephants usually freeze (hold stock-still) and listen to first assess how dangerous the situation is. This behavior may follow a sharp snort or snort-rumble followed by soft, medium length rumbles by one or more individuals. As the elephants call they continue to stand alert, listening and looking.
Anthing that alarms an elephant may elicit this kind of behavior and calling pattern. For instance, elephants may call after being frightened by an unintended noise in the research vehicle, a helicopter passing overhead, the discovery of Maasai herdsmen in the area, or the roaring sounds of lions. Elephants may also give similar sounding calling in the context of a new situation, such as the arrival of a known research vehicle. And this form of soft rumbling may also be heard when a disturbing event occurs in the family, such as aggression directed at a family member. It seems as if the elephants use these calls to draw attention to, or comment upon, an unusual or disturbing event.
Here are two examples:
The EBs are frightened by a herd of running buffalo; they run away and then stop at a safe distance; Eudora rumbles. Note that the louder sounds at the end are made by the buffaloes.
A young male persistently follows Eudora as if he thinks that she is in estrus. Erin is annoyed by his behavior and chases him away, twice. Elspeth (Eudora’s daughter) and then Eudora comment upon her action.
Have a great weekend!