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What's all that Rumbling About?

African Elephant Vocal Communication at Disney's Animal Kingdom®

Elephants have fascinated people for centuries. Efforts to understand their complex societies have led to many unexpected discoveries. Most notably was the realization that elephants produce vocalizations with components below the range of human hearing. These “infrasonic” calls have been the subject of many studies on wild elephants. While research in the wild has shed light on the complex nature of elephant society, there are still many unanswered questions. That’s where studies on captive elephants can be extremely helpful to augment the existing information on elephant behavior and communication.

At Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, our elephant exhibit is a large complex habitat that mimics the savannahs of Africa. We have a large social group of elephants that was initially established in 1997 with 6 adult females and 2 adult males, and over the years has grown to include additional adult females and many new calves born at the facility.

In 1999, the Science Team began a research program to increase our understanding of African elephant vocal communication and behavior. We are unique in that we use sophisticated equipment and technology that allows us to identify individual elephant vocalizations, track elephant locations in the exhibit, capture their ongoing social behavior, and monitor their hormonal cycles. Using this unique combination of information, we can answer questions that relate vocal activity to other aspects of elephant social behavior and to their reproduction.

The most common vocalization of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the “rumble,” a call that is so low in pitch that it is sometimes undetectable by the human ear. We use a unique audio-recording collar system that allows us to identify and examine these elusive elephant vocalizations and try to understand what these calls mean to the animals themselves.

To learn more about Elephant Communication please visit the links below:

African elephant vocalizations
and behavior

Recording Elephant Vocalizations and Behavior
Check out our elephant collar audio-recording system

Elephant Exercise
Using GPS to evaluate how elephants utilize their exhibit space

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in detail

Meet our Elephant
Research Team
Something to Buzz About: Elephants and Bees
Learn how researchers are using bees to protect elephants and people in Northern Kenya

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Elephant Information
Updated: July 26, 2012