© Jane Wynyard

Elephant communication

Elephant Communication: The Power of Rumbles

Over millions of years of evolution, African savannah elephants have developed complex communication capabilities, producing vocalizations with low fundamental frequencies that can travel over long distances. Recent studies have shown how elephants send alarm rumbles to each other in response to swarming African honey-bees.

This groundbreaking discovery is helping to protect farms from crop-raiding elephants. New studies by Save the Elephants’ researcher Dr Lucy King in collaboration with Dr Joseph Soltis at Disney’s Animal Kingdom are showing their response to human voices, and language.

Excerpt from Abstract (King et al 2010): The sound of disturbed African honeybees Apis meliffera scutellata causes African elephants Loxodonta africana to retreat and produce warning vocalizations that lead other elephants to join the flight. In our first experiment, audio playbacks of bee sounds induced elephants to retreat and elicited more head-shaking and dusting, reactive behaviors that may prevent bee stings, compared to white noise control playbacks.

Most importantly, elephants produced distinctive ‘‘rumble’’ vocalizations in response to bee sounds. These rumbles exhibited an upward shift in the second formant location, which implies active vocal tract modulation, compared to rumbles made in response to white noise playbacks. In a second experiment, audio playbacks of these rumbles produced in response to bees elicited increased headshaking, and further and faster retreat behavior in other elephants, compared to control rumble playbacks with lower second formant frequencies. These responses to the bee rumble stimuli occurred in the absence of any bees or bee sounds.

Read more on the Elephants and Bees Project

More Projects Under Behaviour & Society


Elephants need you to live their large and wild lives


How You Can Help

Over the last years our world-leading conservation efforts have been possible thanks to the dedication and generosity of loyal supporters. To join them you can donate in a number of ways:

Elephant Crisis Fund

Elephants are fast disappearing from the wild. Without urgent, international action they could be gone within a generation. The Elephant Crisis Fund provides rapid, catalytic support for the most effective projects designed to stop the killing, thwart traffickers and end the demand for ivory. 100% of all donations reach the field.

Online Donation

Save the Elephants is funded almost entirely by private donations. It is only through the generous support of donors that we are able to continue our important elephant conservation work. We rely entirely on funds, grants and donations from around the world, so thank you for helping us to secure a future for these fascinating creatures.

Education - Support a Child

Our unique brand of conservation education encourages students to become ambassadors of their rich environment. We also give opportunities to friends around the world to help educate young minds and improve the infrastructure of their schools. Sponsor a child & help build a future for wildlife.