As poaching rates have spiked in recent years, humans have emerged as African elephants' biggest threats -- a fact that clearly isn't lost on them. According to a new study, elephants have actually developed a unique word-like sound specifically to warn one another about the danger posed by people.
Researchers from Oxford University conducted audio experiments involving elephant herds in Kenya. When the sound of human voices, recorded from local tribespeople, was played to a group of wild elephants at rest, the animals reacted immediately, becoming vigilant and running away whilst producing a distinct, low rumbling sound with their throats.
Scientists then played back this sound to another herd of elephants, and the reaction was the same -- indicating that the rumble serves as an alarm call alerting others that danger is near.
Remarkably, this rumble appears to contain not only a call to flee, but information on the type of threat as well.
Elephants presented with another threatening sound, that of swarming bees, produced an entirely different low rumble and escape reaction. When this alarm call was played back to another group of elephants, they reacted by flapping their ears and running away just as if bees were actually present as suggested by the recorded rumble.