An abrupt shaking of the head, which causes the ears to flap sharply and dust to fly. Head-Shaking usually starts by the elephant twisting the head to one side and then rapidly rotating it from side to side. The ears slap against the side of the face or neck making a loud smacking sound.

Head-Shaking occurs in a broad range of contexts. It can be a sign of an individual's annoyance with or disapproval of an individual or circumstance. It can be used as a threat to other elephants or in confrontations with predators, as well as in play in feign annoyance. It also occurs during intense social events such as Greeting-Ceremonies or the arrival of an awaited individual.

Head-Shaking may also occur after a longish period of contemplation - as if the individual has considered something and the Head-Shake is an outward expression of those feelings. Head-Shaking also typically follows a bout of mud-splashing or mud wallowing.

This behavior is observed in all age/sex groups except during Affiliative bonding behavior in which it is limited to female adults, adolescents, juveniles and calves.

References: Douglas-Hamilton 1972: ch 6; Eltringham 1982; Poole 1987a; Moss 1988; Moss 1992: 129; Payne & Langbauer 1992; Poole 1996: 147; Langbauer 2000; Poole & Granli 2003. (Full reference list)

This behavior occurs in the following context(s): Affiliative, Aggressive, Attentive, Calf Reassurance & Protection, Conflict & Confrontation, Lone & Object Play, Social Play, Submissive, Protest & Distress


Context: Attentive (1)

We're not sure why she Head-Shakes - someone coming and perhaps she is worried she will be displaced (adult female Selengei arrives a little bit after) or does she just feel good? (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (2)

A young female is engaged in the idiosyncratic "feel-good" behaviour, Stand-Over-Bush. She appears to get a mild fright from something, steps off her bush, turns around, Head-Shakes, and climbs back on her bush again. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (3)

A family of elephants are around a mud wallow. A 4 year old female who has already mud splashed seems to be considering the scene and Head-Shakes. In what appears to be an act of Contagion, the 18 month old behind her follows immediately with a second Head-Shake. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (4)

A subsection of Big Mama's family is Body-Axis-Pointing and Waiting. They are trying to persuade their matriarch, Big Mama, to go in this direction (to the right), but she is oriented in the opposite direction. It is mid day and it is hot. An adolescent female in the group is feeling fed-up and expresses her feelings by Head-Shaking vigorously. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (5)

A family of elephants is walking down a slope toward the lugga. A young family male has to stop to urinate and defecate. As he defecates we can see that it is a bit watery. He seems concerned as he reaches back with his Trunk-Toward as if to check how it is. Meanwhile, his friends leave him behind while others continue on past him. He expresses his feelings about the situation by Head-Shaking and then joins the crowd down the hill. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (6)

We think (can't really see) infant of f0254 might have been trying to suckle from his brother - a 6 year old male. He walks around to the other side and the male walks away from him. He shakes his head and runs after him. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Attentive (7)

An 18 month old calf is with her mother, Ozora, who is in estrus. Ozora has been Chased and followed by males all morning and has been hanging around Waiting for Liaqat to Guard her. The calf is fed-up. A medium sized male approaches Ozora again and she begins to walk away. The calf demonstrates her annoyance with a Head-Shake. (Amboseli, Kenya)