elephants visual communication

  • 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