Humans are the most significant threat to elephants after lions, but not all humans pose the same threats. [E]lephants’ memory is so good that they can distinguish the voices of different human ethnic groups, as well as among humans of different sexes and ages.
There are two ethnic groups in Kenya that differ in terms of their relationship with elephants. For young Maasai men, one of the ways in which they demonstrate their strength and masculinity is by spearing elephants. The Kamba, who are primarily farmers, represent little threat to elephants’ wellbeing.
McComb and her group conducted almost 150 field playback experiments with 48 elephant groups in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.
Finally, the elephants also distinguished between the voices of Maasai men, which pose a threat, from those of Maasai boys, which don’t.
When played the voices of Maasai men and women, the elephants responded far more aggressively to the male stimuli. That makes a good deal of sense, as Maasai women aren’t involved in the elephant-spearing events that characterize Maasai culture.