What Elephant Calls Mean: A User’s Guide

Graphic by Emily M. Eng, Xaquín G.V., NG Staff; Art by Álvaro Valiño

From powerful roars to low-frequency rumbles, elephants use a variety of vocalizations to communicate. Their sounds also include snorts, barks, grunts, trumpets, cries, and even imitated sounds. These calls are essential cues for the survival of an elephant family.

Elephant biologist and National Geographic Explorer Joyce Poole, along with ElephantVoices co-director Petter Granli, have recorded thousands of elephant calls. They have divided these into different categories, or “call types” (e.g., rumbles versus trumpets), in an elephant acoustic database and based on behavioral context, call tone, and measurement, they have interpreted the meanings of the many intricate differences within each type in their call context database.

Read the full story and listen to the elephant calls on our daily news page.

Christy Ullrich Barcus, National Geographic magazine staff, covers natural history and culture topics for National Geographic News. She is the editor of Polar Bear Watch. She holds a master's degree in nonfiction writing from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.

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