Although elephants may be the largest land mammal, they may also have an inherent fear of bees and know how to communicate that threat to each other.
That’s the conclusion of a team of researchers from Save the Elephants, Oxford University and Disney’s Animal Kingdom who have discovered a new alarm call made by elephants in response to the threat of bees. Working with herds of elephants in Kenya, scientists theorize that this unique rumble may warn other herd members of the bees’ presence, prompting pachyderm retreats even when no are bees present.
“The purpose behind these studies is to find a novel way of keeping elephants from raiding the crops of local communities, and thereby reducing “human-elephant conflict,” according to Joseph Soltis, Ph.D., research scientist at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. “As human populations expand, they move into elephant territory and elephants and people end up sharing the same space. One of the consequences is that elephants start raiding crops, which can end up harming both people and elephants.”
Using an array of microphones hidden in the bush, scientists first recorded the vocal reaction of the elephants to bees and then replayed these elephant rumblings without bees present. When elephants heard this recording through wireless speakers, they behaved the same as they did when bees were present; they shook their heads, threw dust in the air, and ran away from the area. These very low-frequency “rumble” vocalizations are apparently different from other rumbles, leading researchers to believe that that elephants may use their voices to communicate threats to each other.