Elephants Distinguish Human Ethnicity, Sex and Age…by Sound


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.

Quoted text by Jason Goldman via io9 for the full article.
Original academic article by Karen McComb in PNAS

This entry was posted in Culture, Science, Videos by Heretic. Bookmark the permalink.

About Heretic

I design video games for a living, write fiction, political theory and poetry for personal amusement, and train regularly in Western European 16th century swordwork. On frequent occasion I have been known to hunt for and explore abandoned graveyards, train tunnels and other interesting places wherever I may find them, but there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that I am preparing to set off a zombie apocalypse. Nothing that will stand up in court, at least. I use paranthesis with distressing frequency, have a deep passion for history, anthropology and sociological theory, and really, really, really hate mayonnaise. But I wash my hands after the writing. Promise.

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