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: Social Play (1)

Adult males gm0016 and gm0049 have been Sparring. Male gm0016 is larger and appears to have “won” the match. He reaches his Trunk-to-Genitals to gm0049, who Head-Shakes, then gm0016 Grasp-Tail of gm0049. This clip is filmed from a distance and some of the behaviors are hard to discern. (Gorongosa, Mozambique)


Context: Social Play (2)

A six year old female has been playing with a < 2 year old calf. The older female has been engaged in Tusk-Ground and Head-Shakes as she gets back to her feet. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)


Context: Social Play (3)

Two calves under the age of two are standing side by side feeding on grass on a termite mound. They have been engaged in playful interactions Head-Waggling and touching one another. One Head-Shakes. (Maasai Mara, Kenya)