A hug and rumble at a family reunion

A hug and rumble at a family reunion

Elephants use a variety of sounds to communicate. A common sound elephants make is a rumble. Low-pitched, it can sound like a dog’s growl or even a lion’s roar or very deep cat purring. A rumble may accompany a greeting to another elephant, signifying happiness, or may be used in a call and response fashion by family members that are spread over a distance and out of sight. For samples of elephant vocal recordings, see the Elephant Voices website, which shares research findings by Joyce Poole.

Mainly people have observed elephants to be quiet animals, however scientists have recorded elephants making very low sounds that are outside the perceptible range of humans. One way in which elephants may sense a wide range of sound is through the bottom of their feet and the tip of their trunk. The bottom of an elephant’s foot is padded with a gel-like cushion, which muffles sound as the elephant walks, and is sensitive to seismic movement when the elephant is still.

Elephant researchers have observed that elephants are group decision makers who may discuss decisions. Any elephant can make a suggestion, but usually adults with more group influence tend to make suggestions. In a democratic fashion, a group decision can override the suggestion of a matriarch. However, in times of danger when quick decisions are essential, herd members will look to the matriarch for leadership due to her cumulative experience and knowledge.