elephant displays

  • A message of gratitude from ElephantVoices


    Dear Friend of ElephantVoices,

    When elephants have a goal to accomplish, a plan to put into motion, they reach out to their friends. When they have had success and achieved something together, they acknowledge the members of their team. We call it High-Fiving, because it is used in much the same way as we would High-Five with our hands - as a call to action or a celebration of an accomplishment. Only elephants do it with their trunks :-).

    Joyce is now into her 42nd year studying elephants and working for their conservation and welfare. In 2017 she and Petter will have worked together as ElephantVoices for 15 years. Just like elephants we rely on our team, and You are on it.

    We are grateful for our network of donors, collaborators, colleagues, volunteers and other friends of elephants. We could not do without your support, encouragement, compassion and knowledge. To show our gratitude we High-Five all of you!

    Thank you for being there for elephants and for us.

    Trumpets, Joyce and Petter

    The work of ElephantVoices is dependent on your support - please include ElephantVoices in your giving.
    Donate online, or send your contribution to ElephantVoices, 1160 Battery Street, Suite 300, 94111 San Francisco.

  • ElephantVoices research

    Listening to the voices of elephants over decades has taught us that communication is the glue that binds the social network of an intelligent species, and its study offers a window into the hearts and minds of elephants. Our collection of observations, recordings and images come from Africa and Asia and form the basis of extensive databases, being used and visited by a world-wide audience.

    National Geographic illustrationA decades-long study of elephant social behaviour, communication and cognition in Amboseli, Kenya, have been dedicated to the understanding and protection of these remarkable creatures. Our work in the Maasai Mara, Kenya, and Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, is adding to this body of knowledge and will in due time also be reflected in our online behavioral databases.

    By studying what elephants are capable of understanding and what they communicate to one another, we have a better chance of finding solutions to the many problems that elephants face. In this endeavour we collaborate with biologists all over the world with our online collections forming a unique resource for other scientists and the public.

    By clicking on the illustration to the right you will be able to check out an article on National Geographic, giving some insight

  • Methodology

    Selecting Contexts

    Text to be written

    Defining & Coding Behaviors and Constellations

    The original behavior databases and Poole & Granli (2011) and Poole (2011) described some 218 behaviors and 47 calls that occurred in specific contexts. Each behavior was placed in a Narrow Context within eight overall General Contexts and described and referenced each behavior. To keep the database from becoming too complex each behavior was put in one narrow context that represented the "best fit" except behaviors that were also observed in play, in which case the word Play was added as a pre-fix, (e.g. Play-Mount, Play-Kneel-Down, Play-Bush-Bash, Play-Throw-Debris). Thus, Throw-Debris and Play-Throw-Debris were essentially counted as two separate behaviors.

    In developing The Elephant Ethogram we recognized the short comings inherent in the choices we had made in the original database. We dropped the Narrow Context and instead describe 22 Contexts which we feel best cover the behavior of elephants. Having described a particular Behavior or Constellation we included it under each of the 22 Contexts in which it has been observed to occur. Thus, each behavior is described once. The only exception is behavior toward dead elephants, which are preceded by the term Body, as in Body-Mount, Body-Lifting etc. In the

  • Visual communication


    For years naturalists have written about the behavior of elephants without realizing they were contributing to the beginnings of a foundation of knowledge about their displays. Many of these are part of popular language. For instance, people talk about an angry elephant "charging", "flapping its ears", "kicking up dust" or "tossing its trunk." In the course of their research elephant ethologists, too, have written about specific displays using words such as "the musth walk", "standing-tall", "distant frontal attitude" or "trunk curling," to name but a few. Yet, no one had tried to systematically describe the displays, signals and gestures of elephants.

    In 1991 Phil Kahl and Billie Armstrong set off to Zimbabwe to film elephants and document their behavior. For years afterwards they went through hundreds of hours of video recordings and thousands of still photographs with the goal to produce a detailed ethogram of the African elephant. Unfortunately Phil Kahl passed away in late 2012, before this tremendous task was completed.

    In 2002 we also began to compile everything we knew about elephant displays and gestures from the cumulative work of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. To this knowledge we added displays mentioned in the published work of other