Elephant Voices

An elephant that speaks Korean?  The New York Times reports  (click here)  there is a young male elephant (at the Everland Zoo in South Korea) that can speak Korean by putting his trunk in his mouth.  Alone for the first seven years of his life, his need to socialize was so great that he began to imitate certain words spoken by his handlers.

While learning or imitating human languages may be possible, the incredible ability elephants have to communicate with each other over great distances is even more remarkable.  Dr. Joyce Poole has been studying elephant communications for more than three decades.  Her organization, Elephant Voices, is an exceptional source of information on all aspects of how these creatures communicate with each other in a variety of situations.

Elephants in a herd recognize the “voice” of their fellow elephants, as well as the meaning of the sound made by that individual.  Some elephant sounds are two octaves below the level which humans can hear.  Such low sounds can travel great distances, up to several miles.  In savannah environments, during evening and morning temperature inversions, elephants can reportedly hear other elephants up to six miles or  10 kilometers away.  What’s more, an elephant can determine the location and distance of another elephant’s call.

Elephants produce an enormous range of sounds.  Poole reports:  “In normal human speech, the vibration rate may vary over a 2:1 ratio, in other words over one octave, while a singer’s voice may have a range of over two octaves. By contrast, the fundamental frequency within a single elephant call may vary over 4 octaves, starting with a rumble at 27 Hz and grading into a roar at 470 Hz! Including the harmonics elephant calls may contain frequencies ranging over more than 10 octaves, from a low of 5 Hz to a high of over 10,000 Hz. Imagine a musical composition with some operatic elephants!”  Click here to hear a few elephant voices and learn more!