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Elephant Call Types Database

Elephant calls can be divided into two broad categories based on the way that the sound is produced. Sounds originating in the larynx are laryngeal calls. Trunk calls are those produced by a blast of air through the trunk.

Elephant calls can be further categorized into presumed call types by ear and by visual inspection of spectrograms. For instance, one can easily hear broad differences between the rumbling, screaming, and crying sounds produced by elephants, and on a spectrogram one can see the difference between a noisy or tonal sound. Finally, one can measure structural differences in the time and frequency characteristics of sounds.

Elephants use broad range of calls

Female vocalizes during mating. (?ElephantVoices)Based on these broad differences as well as previous work of our colleagues, we have described 10 types. The laryngeal types are: rumblerevroar (with subtypes noisytonal, and mixed), crybarkgrunt and husky cry and the trunk call types, trumpetnasal-trumpet, and snort.

Besides these primary call types elephants frequently emit composite calls that grade from one type into another. This rich range of amalgamated calls includes snort-rumbles, roar-rumbles, rumble-roar-rumbles, cry-rumbles, bark-rumbles and trumpet-rumbles. Elephants are most likely to produce these composite calls when they are disturbed or excited.

The elephant's capacity for vocal production learning, or imitation, creates the potential for an additional call type category namely, Imitated and Novel Calls that, while structurally unique, may not be socially relevant. These include croaking, squelching, purring and truck-like sounds as well as other idiosyncratic sounds, such as the elephant in a Korean zoo who imitates the voice of his handler.

Sound collection from decades of fieldwork

In the midst of a bit of chaos in the family caused by a baby wildebeast an infant begs to suckle. (?ElephantVoices)This elephant call type database together with the more comprehensive elephant call context-type database represent a sample of our elephant call collection and is the result of many, many years of fieldwork, analysis and writing. The two databases expand upon a body of work that appear as Poole, J.H. 2011. The behavioral contexts of African elephant acoustic communication. In: The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-Term Perspective on a Long-Lived Mammal. Moss, C.J. & Croze, H.J. (Eds.) University of Chicago PressThe chapter is more technical and addresses statistical differences between the different call types and context-types. For those of you interested in obtaining more detailed information about these results, or for obtaining access to calls for further analysis, please get in touch. We welcome collaboration.

The sounds on the database are the copyright of ElephantVoices. If you wish to use them commercially or otherwise, please contact usLow frequency infoIf you wish to cite this work please use: Poole, J and Granli, P. 2009. Database of African elephant acoustic communication,

To view the full structure of this database, also showing the selection of sounds uploaded, click here.

Call CategoryCall Types
Laryngeal calls

Eudora squelching. (?ElephantVoices)

Sounds originating in the larynx are referred to as laryngeal calls and include the rumbles, revs, roars, cries, grunts, barks and husky-cries.

The most commonly heard call type are the rumbles, representing over 90% of our collection of sounds.

Trunk Calls

Corejosa and others from Gorongosa's C family trumpet-blast as they mob us. (?ElephantVoices)

Trunk calls are produced when an elephant sends an explosive exhalation of air through the trunk. Elephant can produce a wide variety of sounds this way.

Elephants often trumpet when they are highly stimulated - in situations where they may be fearful, surprised, aggressive, playful or socially excited.

Imitated and Novel Calls

Eudora squelching. (?ElephantVoices)

Elephants produce a variety of novel sounds some of which are learned through imitation of other elephants or things in their environment. Sounds reported thus far include humming, squelching, croaking.

Imitation of trucks and the imitation by African elephants of Asian elephant chirps were documented by Poole et al in 2005 (Click to download, .pdf 296kb) and the imitation of whistling by Asian elephants was described in 1982 and 1985 by Wemmer & Mishna. An elephant imitating human speech has also been documented.

These unusual or idiosyncratic sounds are produced rarely and are, therefore, challenging to collect. We present a range of these calls here.