AI reveals what elephants are saying – and it’s very human

Afrcan Elephant on the move

Elephants may be more like humans than we realised (Picture: Getty)

There’s no fear like seeing someone approaching and realising you can’t remember their name.

Well, that probably isn’t a worry elephants have – not because they don’t use names, but thanks to their famously good memories.

Yes, scientists have just discovered that the (mostly) gentle giants address each other in the wild with name-like calls, a rare ability among non-human animals.

The team subsequently called African elephants by their names – and the elephants answered back.

The findings could suggest elephants have a much more complex system of vocal communication than thought.

Researchers from Colorado State University (CSU) in the US, along with conservation groups Save the Elephants and ElephantVoices, used artificial intelligence to confirm that elephant calls contained a name-like component identifying the intended recipient.

When the team played back recorded calls, elephants responded affirmatively to calls that were addressed to them by calling back or approaching the speaker.

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But calls meant for other elephants received less of a reaction, according to the findings published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Lead author Dr Michael Pardo, of CSU, said: ‘Dolphins and parrots call one another by “name” by imitating the signature call of the addressee.

‘By contrast, our data suggest that elephants do not rely on imitation of the receiver’s calls to address one another, which is more similar to the way in which human names work.’

He says the ability to learn to produce new sounds is rare among animals but necessary for identifying individuals by name.

Dr Pardo explained that arbitrary communication – where a sound represents an idea but does not imitate it – expands communication capability and is considered a next-level cognitive skill.

Co-author Professor George Wittemyer, of CSU and chairman of the scientific board of Save the Elephants, said: ‘If all we could do was make noises that sounded like what we were talking about, it would vastly limit our ability to communicate.’

Two juvenile elephants greet each other in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya (Picture: George Wittemyer/SWNS)

Professor Wittemyer said that the use of arbitrary vocal labels indicates that elephants may be capable of abstract thought, and although elephant and human evolution diverged tens of millions of years ago, both species are ‘socially complex’ and highly communicative.

Elephants function within family units, social groups and a larger clan structure similar to the complex social networks humans maintain.

Professor Wittemyer said similar needs likely drove development naming in both species.

He said: ‘It’s probably a case where we have similar pressures, largely from complex social interactions.

‘That’s one of the exciting things about this study, it gives us some insight into possible drivers of why we evolved these abilities.’

An elephant family comforts their calf (Picture: George Wittemyer/SWNS)

The researchers explained that elephants are talkative, communicating with one another vocally in addition to sight, scent and touch, with their calls conveying information such as the caller’s identity, age, sex and emotional state.

Their …read more

Source:: Metro


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