ElephantVoices is working on a major initiative to document the repertoire of African elephant behavior. The Elephant Ethogram will represent a unique and comprehensive source of information about elephant behaviour and communication, based on ElephantVoices' decades of behavioural study, our multimedia photographic and acoustic collections, as well as footage collected during the filming of documentaries from the Maasai Mara, Kenya, and Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. The Elephant Ethogram will describe and preserve the gestural and acoustic "language" and behaviour of a species whose way of life, and very existence, is threatened by human greed and expansion.

The first version of The Elephant Ethogram will be made available via ElephantVoices.org during the first half of 2019.

Purpose & Objectives

The Elephant Ethogram intends to document in unique, user-friendly and fully searchable databases, the complex and diverse communication and behavior of African elephants for scientists and others to study, compare and share. As a repository of exemplars of elephant behaviour, The Elephant Ethogram aims to: preserve the gestural and acoustic repertoire, or "language," of elephants;  be a valuable resource and reference for scientific study; be a repository of rare elephant behaviors and those evolving through social learning in response to rapidly increasing anthropogenic threats; inspire interest in elephant behavior, conservation and welfare in the public domain.


The Elephant Ethogram represents a significant expansion of ElephantVoices Elephant Gestures and Calls Databases. The original databases, developed in 2003 and revamped in 2011, are based on decades of study in Amboseli, Kenya. Unique in their detail, they currently constitute the only accessible online documentation of the repertoire of African elephant behavior. The Elephant Ethogram will combine and dramatically expand these databases to include additional populations, many more behaviors and video. 

Since 2011 we have run elephant monitoring and conservation projects in Mara, Kenya and Gorongosa, Mozambique for which we now have additional images and video of elephant behavior. The expression of behaviors varies by population, often related to anthropogenic threats, and we have recently documented additional behaviors not currently illustrated/described in our databases. The Elephant Ethogram will combine and dramatically expand these databases to include data from Mara and Gorongosa, as well as many additional behaviors and video.

Groundbreaking collaboration

In a groundbreaking collaboration with copyright owners Off the Fence (The Netherlands), Gorongosa Media Project (US/Mozambique) and Bob Poole Films, hundreds of hours of raw footage of elephant behavior, originally shot for documentatries, were granted to us for use in science and education. We have extracted from this footage over 1,500 exemplars of some 300 different elephant behaviors. These media put us in a unique position to improve our repositories to both deepen understanding of the behavioral diversity of elephants as well as how it is affected by human interference. 

Scope of work 

The Elephant Ethogram will merge ElephantVoices Gestures and Calls Databases in a new structure, and expand and improve them with video and new higher-resolution images, additional audio files. With over 300 different communicative calls, gestures and behaviours to document with an estimated 1,500+ video exemplars, the work involved is significant. Joyce Poole and Petter Granli are overall responsible for all described content development. Web-related programming, maintenance and design is being partly outsourced. During 2018 Thomas Stafford and Selengei Poole-Granli have assisted with, respectively, digital media editing and program production, and in the expansion of ElephantVoices outreach through social media and other channels.

We have mined hundreds of hours of raw footage to attempt to document as many of the 300 or so described behaviors as possible. The 1,500 best examples have been edited and prepared for rendering of short, educational clips. Descriptions of the individuals and particular context of each clip has been written. What remains is to render and upload each video clip and its description to ElephantVoices YouTube channel [youtube.com/elephantvoices] and then to embed them in The Elephant Ethogram database on www.elephantvoices.org. Upload/database population will start during 1st quarter 2019.

Once the The Elephant Ethogram has been populated with video, we will begin to keyword and select from our Amboseli, Mara and Gorongosa photographic collections, high resolution exemplars of as many of the 300 or so behaviors we have described (most photographs in the current version of the databases are taken with first generation digital cameras; we aim to replace them with better quality images).

Educational output

We expect significant interest in the updated version of the databases, and through social and other media we will systematically share and educate to inspire the public to care about elephants. We predict increased interest in this material from global media, which will be another avenue for outreach. During second half of 2019 we will discuss with a variety of partners and collaboraters how to optimise the educational impact of the material. After completion of the work described, we will look into where the online databases might be stored and maintained in perpetuity for scientific and natural history purposes. 


The Elephant Ethogram is made possible by generous support from the Crystal Springs Foundation, WildiZe Foundation, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and individual donors.