I am back for another installment of elephant sounds 101 and we are still working our way through how elephants respond to predators. Since humans are the most dangerous predator an elephant has to face, I have been on the sharp end of some of these reactions, though these frightening assaults have almost all been in places other than Amboseli. If you visit the visual tactile database on our website, and search under the word “bunching”, you can read in more detail how after freezing and perhaps “commenting”, the first response to potential danger by members of a family group is to gather together or “bunch”. Once elephants have bunched together, older individuals at the fore and calves occupying the center, one or more larger individuals may charge the predator while emitting the trumpet blasts or roars that I have already described. Throughout a confrontation with a dangerous predator the bunched elephants may continue to vocalize with noisy, throaty, rolling rumbles, their heads raised, ears extended, temporal glands streaming and trunks reaching out to touch one another. These rumbles have a roaring quality and appear to have the effect of both intimidating the predator and calling in support from any more distant family members. I refer to the powerful noisy rumbles given in this context as roaring-rumbles.
I recorded a lovely example of roaring rumbles in Amboseli one day when I happened to witness a lion pounce upon a year old elephant calf. The calf screamed, which prompted an immediate response from its mother and other allies, who rushed to the calves side, and confronted the lion with a series of roaring-rumbles. The calls attracted the attention of other family members who responded by calling and arriving at the scene minutes later.
Bunched elephants confront a predator.
For those of you who just happen to be in Paris this summer you may want to stop by the Musee du Jeu de Paume to listen to elephants recorded in Amboseli. On 1 July artists Virginie Yassef and her colleague Julien Bismuth open an exhibition of their work, this time revolving around a sculpture of an elephant. ElephantVoices has contributed a 33 minute elephant soundscape to accompany the exhibition.
The artwork of Virginie and her colleagues starts from a concrete situation or problem, be it political or environmental. The result may be more abstract, poetic, or quiet, but seeks to work back towards the issue or concern. For Virginie and Julien elephants are animals that continue to exert a sense of wonder, the same sort of wonder you feel as a child when you first see such an otherworldy creature. The elephant sculpture and its accompaniments are meant as an hommage to elephants – to sensitize the audience to both their marvellous qualities, and of the natural world in general, and of their increasingly fragile and threatened state.
Although collaborating with a Parisan sculptor may seem a long way from elephant conservation – we believe that protecting elephants is as dependent on public awareness as it is on anti-poaching. In Paris the voices of Ella and her family will help to secure a future for elephants by inspiring wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of their kind.
The following description accompanies the elephant soundscape:In the late afternoon of 3 April 1999, surrounded by her large family, Ella gave birth to a male calf. Dr. Joyce Poole photographed the birth and recorded the cacophony of excited calls made by Ella’s family in first few hours and days of the calf’s life. The sounds presented here were recorded in the first two hours following the calf’s birth, while Ella and her eldest daughter, Emma, stood just meters from the research vehicle. The majority of calls are low rumbling sounds made to reassure the newborn. But there are also more excited rumbles as other members of the family return from feeding and playing to greet Ella and her new calf. Interspersed with the rumbles are more distant trumpets of playing elephants and the short sequence of trumpets by an alarmed calf who suddenly finds himself alone and comes running to his mother’s side. A newborn attracts intense interest from everyone in an elephant family, especially from juvenile females, who want to practice their care taking skills. Ella gently pushes them away, causing screams of protest followed by rumbles of reconciliation between Ella and the youngsters’ mothers. The bonds between members of this elephant family and the intense emotions felt are expressed in the tone and tempo of their calling.
As Ella gives birth the entire family gathers around in a cacophony of elephant sound.
Erin helps Ella to assist the newborn to its feet.