A single or series of very soft, short (generally 1-2 seconds), tonal rumbles, characterized by an ‘rrrrmmmm’ sound of descending pitch, made by an infant or calf as it begs for food or, more typically, access to the breast. An infant or calf typically initiates such Begging by tagging persistently alongside its mother with its trunk raised in a Periscope-Trunk posture and rumbling. Upon hearing her calf vocalizing in this manner, a mother typically stops with her foreleg on the calf's side forward - allowing her calf access to her breast. This behavior and associated calling is frequently observed in an elephant family with infants and calves. We refer to it as a Begging-Rumble.
Acoustically, Begging-Rumbles are typically flat or slightly descending in frequency, but about a third are modulated, rising slightly and then falling. Generally, Begging-Rumbles are limited to elephants under five years of age, although juveniles up to age seven may give Begging-Rumbles if they are still Suckling.
Among free-ranging elephants the vast majority of this type of rumbling is heard when calves are Begging for access to the breast, although calves who are soliciting a share of a food item (e.g. heart of palm, Acacia branch), including from another's mouth, may also use a Begging-Rumble. In captivity, we have recorded these calls from orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust at feeding time, whether food is a bottle of milk or coconut cakes. If a calf's demands are not met by its mother or care-giver it may escalate to a variety of Grumble-Rumbles, Cry-Rumbles, Roars or Roar-Rumbles.
References: Poole 2011. (Full reference list)
This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Calf Nourishment & Weaning