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< > DETAILED PHYSIOLOGY NOTES with literature reports for the African Elephant - Loxodonta africana: Use sub-contents list below, or simply scroll down the page to view findings.

DETAILED PHYSIOLOGY - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Loxodonta africana - African Elephant)

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE): Normal body temperature is 35 - 37 C. The ears are used for cooling, with the blood vessels on the back of the ear distended and the ears held out in the wind or flapped to increase air movement over the veins. Cooling can also be achieved by sucking up water with the trunk and spraying it over the body.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION): About 70% of air intake is through the trunk, the rest through the mouth. The normal respiratory rate is four to 12 breaths per minute - at the lower end of this range in a sleeping elephant and at the higher end in an alert elephant. Breathing is limited if there is restraint on the chest and diaphragm, for example in sternal recumbency, which limits respiration more in the adult than in the calf.

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE): In a calm standing elephant the heart rate is about 25 - 35 beats per minute. It is increased in recumbent elephants.

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY): 

  • Elephants defecate about 10 - 20 times per day with variation related to diet, in boluses as large as 180 mm diameter and weighing up to 2 kg each; they produce about four to six boluses at one time and pass a total of about 140 - 180 kg faeces per day. 
  • Gut passage time, indicated by various experiments with identifiable items included in the diet, is about 11 - 46 hours.
  • Elephants show a digestibility for hay of about 44%, compared to values for the same hay in horses (53%), cattle (60%) and sheep (61%).

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE): Elephant urine straw to amber in colour, clear, or turbid towards the end of urination, slightly acidic and without any unpleasant odour. Elephants may urinate 10 - 14 times daily, voiding five to eleven litres per urination; total discharge is about 50 litres a day. The urine contains large quantities of calcium oxylate, calcium carbonate and amorphous phosphate crystals. 

CHROMOSOMES: 2n = 56 African Elephant Chromosomes.

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: Elephant muscles have a greater component of fibrous tissue than that found in the muscles of other large domesticated animals.

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS: Elephants have excellent olfaction and a well developed sense of touch, especially in the trunk where these two senses are used together. Elephants also have very good hearing; the range of hearing of elephants is about 17 Hz to 10.5 KHz. Their sight is reasonable, probably better at close range than for distance vision, particularly in bright light. Elephants have taste buds and appear to have a good sense of taste. Elephants have a wide range of vocalisations, some produced from the larynx, others by the trunk. Sight, sound, olfaction and touch may all be used in social communication.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Metabolism (Temperature)

Source Information SUMMARY: Normal body temperature is 35 - 37 C. The ears are used for cooling, with the blood vessels on the back of the ear distended and the ears held out in the wind or flapped to increase air movement over the veins. Cooling can also be achieved by sucking up water with the trunk and spraying it over the body.
  • Normal body temperature is 36 to 37C (97 to 99F). (B10.49.w21)
  • Deep body temperature is 36.1 to 36.8 C, average 36.4 C. (B384.4.w4)
  • Normal body temperature is 35 - 37 C. The temperature in a bolus of faeces is 0.7 C higher than body temperature, due to bacterial action. (B336.53.w53)
  • Rectal body temperature (in freshly shot elephants) was reported as 96.9 - 98.2 F (36.0 - 36.8C), mean 97.6F (36.4C). (B453.3.w3) 
    • Mean temperature of freshly passed droppings (one to eight minutes after defecation) was in the range 36.0 - 36.8C. (B451.7.w7)
  • One method of cooling is to suck up water with the trunk then spray it over the body. (B147)
  • There is an intensive supply of blood vessels over the underside of the ears; flapping the ears increased loss of excess body heat by creating air currents. (B147)
  • Elephants use radiation of heat from the ears, evaporation of moisture from the trunk (while breathing), standing in shade, spraying water onto itself and throwing dirt onto its back, as well as by eating large amounts of plant material, this being cooler than the external air. (B10.49.w21)
  • The blood vessels are contracted and not easy to find in cold external temperatures but during the heat of the day are distended, prominent and easily seen. The ears are flapped rhythmically in hot external temperatures, increasing air movement over the distended blood vessels on the medial side of the pinna. (B453.1.w1)
  • Elephants use their ears for thermoregulation, standing facing downwind with the ears extended or, in little or no wind, flapping the ears to increase heat loss. At night, and when it is cold or rainy, the ears are held against the body and not flapped. (B451.7.w7)
  • Fanning of the ears is used for cooling. (B387.w4)
  • Observation of elephants in Uganda indicate that both flapping and spreading of the ears are probably important for heat dissipation; flapping increased as ambient temperatures increased and decreased or stopped in cold or rainy weather; rate was also inversely proportional to wind velocity. (J332.52.w1)
  • A study of body temperature of African elephants in Uganda, taken three to 35 minutes after the elephant was shot, by inserting the thermometer an arm's length into the rectum and between the body wall and the faecal boli, found temperatures of 96.9 - 98.2 F (36 - 36.8 C). (J332.46.w1)
  • A study of body temperature measured immediately after immobilisation of elephants using etorphine found a range from 91 - 99 F (32.5 - 37.5 C) and this showed a linear relationship with ambient temperature. (J187.39.w1)
  • A radio-collared male which was apparently overheated following immobilisation was seen to put his trunk into his throat, sucked out water then sprayed this over his shoulders and the backs of his ears. This behaviour has also bee seen in a calf standing in the sun near its dead mother. (B462.7.w7)
  • In a radio-collared male with thermistor probes inserted into a vein and an artery of the ear, the venous temperature of the ear remained relatively constant (range 95.7 - 96.4 F) while the arterial temperature measured was much more variable and usually at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the venous temperature. A temperature difference of as much as 16.9 F between the arterial and venous temperatures, was recorded, with the arterial temperature reaching 112.5 F. (B462.8.w8)

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Respiratory System (Respiration)

Source Information SUMMARY: About 70% of air intake is through the trunk, the rest through the mouth. The normal respiratory rate is four to 12 breaths per minute - at the lower end of this range in a sleeping elephant and at the higher end in an alert elephant. Breathing is limited if there is restraint on the chest and diaphragm, for example in sternal recumbency, which limits respiration more in the adult than in the calf.
  • Some air is taken in through the mouth, but about 70% is inhaled through the trunk. (B10.49.w21)
  • Breathing takes place through both the trunk and the mouth. (B453.3.w3)
  • Because of the direct adherence of the lungs to the thoracic wall, respiratory movements are due solely to movements of the chest musculature. Breathing is difficult if there is any restraint on the movement of the chest and diaphragm. (B451.1.w1)
  • Elephants breath through the trunk but also through the mouth; they can breath while holding water or other substances in the trunk. (B451.1.w1)

Normal respiration: 

  • Four to six breaths per minute for a calm elephant. (B10.49.w21)
  • More than 15 breaths per minute may be seen in excited elephants. (B10.49.w21)
  • A respiratory rate of 10 to 12 breaths per minute has been recorded in wild African elephants. (B384.4.w4)
  • Respiration is limited severely if the elephant lies down. Sternal recumbency is more limiting on respiration in the adult elephant than in the calf and causes severe respiratory distress in adults. (B453.2.w2)
  • In sternal recumbency, respiration rate was decreased and respiration became progressively more shallow (for elephants under etorphine immobilisation). (J2.24.w3)
  • The respiratory rate of elephants is four to 12 breaths per minute, with only four to five breaths per minute in sleeping elephants and six to ten in alert elephants. (B336.53.w53)
  • A study of eight Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and seven Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant (male and females, age eight to 52 years old) found that for standing elephants the average respiratory rate was 7.3 +/- 0.2 breaths per minute, with a range of four to 12 breaths per minute. In left lateral recumbency the rate averaged about 7.5 - 7.8 per minute with a range of five to 12 breaths per minute. (J2.23.w3)

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Circulatory System (Pulse / Heart Rate)

Source Information SUMMARY: In a calm standing elephant the heart rate is about 25 - 35 beats per minute. It is increased in recumbent elephants. Blood pressure (mean, systolic and diastolic) also increases for recumbent elephants.
  • Except in very small elephants, auscultation of the heart sounds is difficult. (B10.49.w21)
  • The pulse rate is normally about 25 to 35 beats per minute in a calm elephant. (B10.49.w21)
  • The pulse rate is usually taken by palpation of the arteries of the ears. (B10.49.w21)
  • The heart rate may be increased in the recumbent elephant compared with the standing elephant, presumably related to the reduced efficiency of respiration in recumbent elephants. (B453.4.w4)
  • The normal heart rate is about 35 beats per minute in the standing elephant, higher in elephants which are lying down. (B336.53.w53)
  • A study of eight Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and seven Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant (male and females, age eight to 52 years old) found that for standing elephants: (J2.23.w3)
    • Heart rate was 39.8 +/- 0.8beats per minute (mean +/- SEM; range 29 - 55). (J2.23.w3)
    • Systolic blood pressure was 118.7 +/- 3.1 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 138 - 239). (J2.23.w3)
    • Diastolic blood pressure was 118.7 +/- 3.1 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 70-164). (J2.23.w3)
    • Mean blood pressure was 144.6 +/- 2.9 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 100 - 191). (J2.23.w3)
  • A study of eight Loxodonta africana - African Elephant and seven Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant (male and females, age eight to 52 years old) found that for elephants in left lateral recumbency: (J2.23.w3)
    • Heart rate increased to 46.3 +/- 1.9 bpm (range 33-57 bpm) after 1.7 minutes; by 16 minutes it was 44.8 +/- 4.7 bpm (range 28-57 bpm). (J2.23.w3)
    • Systolic blood pressure increased to 188.4 +/- 9.5 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 135-237) after 1.7 +/- 0.6 minutes; by 16.5 +/- 1.0 minutes it was 226.0 +/- 11.2 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 184-262), significantly different (P < 0.05) from the mean standing baseline value. (J2.23.w3)
    • Diastolic blood pressure increased to 135.0 +/- 7.4 (mean +/- SEM, range 104-171) after 1.7 +/- 0.6 minutes; by 16.5 +/- 1.0 minutes it was 151.1 +/- 8.8 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 126-180), significantly different from the mean standing baseline value. (J2.23.w3)
    • Mean blood pressure increased to 163.5 +/- 7.2 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 123-196) after 1.7 +/- 0.6 minutes; by 16.5 +/- 1.0 minutes it was 179.8 +/- 9.3 mm Hg (mean +/- SEM; range 144-209), significantly different (P < 0.05) from the mean standing baseline value. (J2.23.w3)

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Gastrointestinal System (Faeces and Gut Motility)

Source Information SUMMARY:
  • Elephants defecate about 10 - 20 times per day with variation related to diet, in boluses as large as 180 mm diameter and weighing up to 2 kg each; they produce about four to six boluses at one time and pass a total of about 140 - 180 kg faeces per day. 
  • Gut passage time, indicated by various experiments with identifiable items included in the diet, is about 11 - 46 hours.
  • Elephants show a digestibility for hay of about 44%, compared to values for the same hay in horses (53%), cattle (60%) and sheep (61%).

Faeces Production:

  • For elephants fed a diet based mainly on hay:
    • On average, the elephant will defecate 12 to 20 times per day;
    • Each defecation will consist of about four to six boluses of faeces;
    • The boluses will have the appearance of finely chopped hay, and be light brown to medium brown in colour. 
    • A single bolus can be as large as 180 mm diameter and weigh up to 2 kg.
    • Note: African elephants tend to produce faeces which are less well formed than those produced by Asian elephants on the same hay-based diet. 

    (B10.49.w21)

  • Elephants defecate about 14 - 20 times per day in the wet season and about 10 times per day in the dry season. (B384.9.w9)

    • Bulls defecate at about 0.58 times per hour and cows at 0.42 times per hour, on average, to make 14 and 10 defecations per day. (B384.9.w9)
    • Defecation is most frequent in the late morning and the afternoon. (B384.9.w9)
    • Each defecation is about 11 kg. (B384.9.w9)
    • At Tsavo, tame juveniles defecated about 16 times per day. (B384.9.w9)
    • Another estimation is 17 times per day. (B384.9.w9)
  • A study observing four hand-reared elephants of one to 10 year old, wandering and feeding all day outside their night stockade, found that the quantity of faeces per defecation ranged from 1.00 kg in the yearling to 5.98 kg in the ten-year old. The mean rate of defecation was about the same for the different elephants, 1.41 - 1.91 h/defecation) total dung produced per day was 15.58 kg for the year old calf, 100.36 kg for the 10-year-old. (J183.10.w1)
  • A study on two captive African elephants found that for one individual the food passage time was 21.4 to 46 hours. The mean gross assimilation efficiency of the elephants was calculated (food consumed minus faeces egested) as 22.4%. (J183.20.w1)
  • Normal faeces contain finely chewed material; in elephants which are old and no longer have adequate molars, or have a molar abnormality, or tongue injury/disease, larger sticks and pieces of wood fibres may be found in the droppings. (B453.2.w2)
  • Defecation occurs approximately hourly (nor during the four or five hours of sleep), with about three to five boluses, green to brown in colour, per defecation, or about 100 boluses per 24 hours; each bolus, about 150 x 200 mm in size weighs about 1.0 - 2.0 kg, with a total of about 140 - 180 kg passed per day. (B453.2.w2)
  • The temperature of the inside of a freshly passed faecal bolus is about 96.0 - 97.5 F, 0.5 - 1.0 degree lower than the elephant's rectal temperature. (B453.2.w2)
  • For elephants in scrubland in Kenka, the composition of faeces, on a dry matter basis, was 1% nitrogen, 16% ash, 7% crude protein, 48% crude fibre, 1% ether extract and 28% nitrogen-free extract (including 2% calcium, 0.3% phosphorus, 0.2% sodium, 0.1% potassium, 6.0% silica and 8.0% silica-free ash). (B453.2.w2)
  • Faeces are formed in short cylinders, their size approximating that of the rectum. (B451.1.w1)
  • Defecation rates may vary and inaccuracies may arise due to lack of nighttime observation, or missed incidents of defecation. . (B451.6.w6)
    • Two studies of African elephants found mean defecation rate of 17 times per day, while another showed just seven defecations per day for cow elephants, in the same area as one of the studies which showed 17 per day. A study in Zimbabwe found 10 times per day for cows, 14 times for bulls. (B451.6.w6)
      • A different analysis of the same data which indicated seven defecations per day, based on the interval between defecations, produced a figure of 11 times per day. (B451.6.w6)
      • There may be variations in defecation rate, with one study finding peaks at 0900-1200 hours and 1500-1800 hours, while another found peaks at 0900-1000 hours and 1600-1700 hours while a third study noticed an increase during the afternoon. (B451.6.w6)
      • Elephants do not defecate while sleeping at night but do so soon after rousing. (B451.6.w6)
    • Gut passage time is about 11 to 26 hours. (B387.w4)

Gastro-intestinal system:

  • Elephants have a gastrointestinal system similar to that of equines, with a large caecum in which microbial fermentation takes place. (B285.w3)
  • Elephants show a digestibility for hay of about 44% (compared to values for the same hay in horses (53%), cattle (60%) and sheep (61%)). (B384.4.w4)
  • GIT passage time has been measured as 11 to 19 hours in a semi-wild African elephant, based on time to pass orange peel after oranges were fed, and in zoo elephants at Knowsley Safari Park, UK, when beetroot was fed the colour was visible in their droppings from 21 to 46 hours. (B384.4.w4)
  • Bacterial fementative digestion of cellulose takes place in the caecum and the products of this digestion are absorbed through its walls. The main role of the rest of the intestines is water resorption and consolidation of faeces. (B451.1.w1)
  • Being a hind-gut fermenter, rather than a ruminant, enables elephants to pass food though the gastro-intestinal system more rapidly. Therefore, although they cannot extract as much of the protein from vegetation, they can process more food in a shorter time, allowing nutrition to be maintained when the quality of food available falls. (B451.5.w5)

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(Urinary System) Urine

Source Information SUMMARY: Elephant urine straw to amber in colour, clear, or turbid towards the end of urination, slightly acidic and without any unpleasant odour. Elephants may urinate 10 - 14 times daily, voiding five to eleven litres per urination; total discharge is about 50 litres a day. The urine contains large quantities of calcium oxylate, calcium carbonate and amorphous phosphate crystals. 
  • Elephants may urinate 10 - 14 times daily, voiding five to eleven litres per urination; total discharge is about 50 litres a day. (B450.21.w21)
  • Elephant urine is clear, amber to straw coloured, slightly acidic, without unpleasant odour. (B450.21.w21)
  • Urine may contain large amounts of calcium oxalate, calcium carbonate and amorphous phosphate crystals (pH dependent); these may result in the last volume of voided urine being turbid. (B450.21.w21)

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Chromosomes

Source Information SUMMARY: 2n = 56 African Elephant Chromosomes.

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Musculo-Skeletal System

Source Information SUMMARY: Elephant muscles have a greater component of fibrous tissue than that found in the muscles of other large domesticated animals.
  • Elephant muscles have a greater component of fibrous tissue than that found in the muscles of other large domesticated animals. (B10.49.w21)

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Special Senses and Vocalisations:

Source Information SUMMARY: Elephants have excellent olfaction and a well developed sense of touch, especially in the trunk where these two senses are used together. Elephants also have very good hearing; the range of hearing of elephants is about 17 Hz to 10.5 KHz. Their sight is reasonable, probably better at close range than for distance vision, particularly in bright light. Elephants have taste buds and appear to have a good sense of taste. Elephants have a wide range of vocalisations, some produced from the larynx, others by the trunk. Sight, sound olfaction and touch may all be used in social communication.

Vision:

  • Elephants have a limited angle of vision, with better forward than side vision. They have relatively poor visual discernment, relying on movement for detection of objects. Their eyesight appears to be better in dim light than in bright light. They can distinguish between shapes, as shown in tests of association and memory. (B384.4.w4)
  • "There is little evidence of colour perception but they dislike red." (B384.4.w4)
  • The visual field to the sides and rear is limited. (B453.1.w1)
  • Sight may be reduced in direct sunlight, but reaches about 50 yards on dull days and is acute in deep forest cover. (B453.1.w1)
  • Elephants can react to slight movement but do not appear to respond to different colours. (B453.1.w1)
  • Distance vision is poor, but elephants have reasonable close vision. (B451.1.w1)
  • Distance vision can be good given open ground and good contrast (e.g. a person appearing against the skyline). (B387.w4)
  • Sight is less important than hearing or olfaction; wild elephants have been reported that are blind but otherwise appear healthy. (B387.w4)

Touch/ Tactile

  • The trunk bears many sensory nerve endings, particularly at its tip. The tongue tip also appears to have good tactile function. Elsewhere on the body sensory endings are present more in some areas than in others. (B453.5.w5)
  • The whole skin of elephants is sensitive to touch. (B451.1.w1)
  • Elephants have a well developed sense of touch in the trunk, particularly at the trunk tip. The trunk's bristles are probably tactile. There are also many touch sensory endings in the tongue. (B451.1.w1)
  • The sense of touch may be closely allied to the sense of smell when an elephant investigates something with its trunk tip. (B387.w4)

Olfaction:

  • The trunk is used in testing the smell of objects: the object is touched with the tip of the trunk, which is then placed inside the mouth, so that the smell is transferred to the palate opening leading to Jacobson's organ. (B384.3.w3)
  • The elephant's sense of smell may be its most well developed sense. To investigate the location, concentration and quality of a scent, the trunk tip is directed towards the scent, reaching upward and bending to and fro to detect scents on the breeze. (B453.5.w5)
  • Olfaction is the most important sense; any strange stimulus, even if clearly visible, is investigated for scent using the trunk. (B451.1.w1)
  • The discharge from the temporal gland, known as temporin, is highly scented. It is thought that, dropping to the ground, this may provide elephants with information about one another. It may also be smeared onto vegetation deliberately; pieces of stick have frequently been found in the gland's duct. (B451.3.w3)
  • The sense of smell is the most developed sense in the elephant. (B387.w4)
    • This may be closely connected with the sense of touch when an elephant uses the trunk tip to investigate something. (B387.w4)
  • Both male and female elephants use flehmen, touching or sniffing a chemical sample (such as urine) with the trunk tip, then placing the trunk tip in their mouth to place or blow small quantities of the sample into the opening to the vomeronasal organ. (J54.20.w8)

Hearing:

  • The range of hearing of elephants is about 17 Hz to 10.5 KHz, as indicated by experiments with a female Asian elephant of seven years old. (B384.8.w8)
  • Elephants use the ear pinnae for accurate detection of the location of sounds. (B384.8.w8)
  • It has been suggested that the pneumatised skull bones may play a role in augmenting sound waves. (B453.5.w5)
  • The elephant's hearing is thought to be acute. (B451.1.w1)
  • Hearing is quite good. (B387.w4)
  • Sound is the major method of communication. (B387.w4)
  • Most calls of elephants are inaudible to humans due to their low fundamental frequencies (15 -25 Hz). Elephants have better low-frequency hearing than any other mammal tested so far. There is a variety of empirical data indicating that African elephants can detect infrasonic calls over distances of 4 km or more. (J54.20.w8)

Taste:

  • Elephants have taste buds on the region of the tongue where the foliaceous papillae are found, but they are reduced around the circumvalate papillae. The main gustatory region of the tongue is Mayer's organ. There are also nerve endings in the chorion of the papillae of the gum. (B453.5.w5)
  • This sense appears to be well developed in elephants. (W580.Aug2005.w1)

Temperature:

  • --

Other senses:

  • --

Vocalisations:

  • Greetings and maintenance of contacts within a group involves low rumblings or growls; these sounds are produced by the vocal cords. (B147)
  • When upset, African elephants trumpet and scream loudly. (B147)
  • The so-called "tummy rumble" is a growl produced from the larynx and it can travel for 1.0 km (0.6 miles); it may be used as a warning, or be used for maintenance of contact between elephants when they are out of sight of one another. (B285.w3)
  • Relatively high-frequency screams, bellows, trumpets are roars are in the range 322-570 Hz. (B384.8.w8)
  • Low-frequency rumbles are in the 18 - 28 Hz range. (B384.8.w8)
  • Several different low frequency calls have been classified including: greeting, contact and answer calls, "let's go", musth rumble, cow chorus, post-mating call and mating pandemonium call. (B384.8.w8)
  • Some calls appear to be formed using the larynx, others rely on modulation of sounds blown out of the trunk. (B453.3.w3)
  • Elephants make a number of different calls and have well-developed vocal cords. Some calls may be made with the trunk; there is disagreement whether trumpeting or screaming is made by blowing air through the trunk or originates as a true vocalisation and is then amplified and resonated through the trunk. (B451.3.w3)
  • The origin of the "tummy rumble" and whether it is under conscious control is debated. (B451.3.w3)
  • Soft growls are apparently used as communication, possibly while out of sight of one another in vegetation. (B451.3.w3)
  • Growls are also made by startled elephants. (B451.3.w3)
  • A variety of squeaks and squeals may be made by elephants. (B451.3.w3)
  • A loud booming may be made by an exhalation through the trunk as it is bounced on the ground. (B451.3.w3)
  • Elephants use deep growls to keep in contact with one another; elephants can probably distinguish between growls of different individuals. (B387.w4)
    • These growls, originating in the larynx, can carry for nearly one kilometer on a still day. (B387.w4)
    • Note: it was previously thought that the growls were made by the elephants' gastro-intestinal tracts. (B387.w4)
  • Fighting elephants may roar and squeal; an elephant injured in a fight may bellow. (B387.w4)
  • Calves in distress squeal; this attracts adults. (B387.w4)
  • A call described as a gurgle or as a soft deep "broomp" is a muffle alarm call, and is followed by rapid, silent movement away. (B387.w4)
  • Elephants use deep rumbles as contact calls to keep in touch with one another both while feeding and while moving. (B462.3.w3)
  • Loud rumples are used in greeting when elephants have been apart for several hours or longer. (J396.22.w1)
  • Very low frequency calls (infrasound), with fundamental frequencies of 14 - 35 Hz and pressure levels up to 103 +/- 3 dB at 5 m from source, are produced by elephants. These have little environmental attenuation and might be used to coordinate elephant movements when elephants are several kilometres apart. (J396.22.w1)
    • Greeting rumbles, used by elephants as they reunited, had fundamental frequencies of 18 Hz, modulating to 25 Hz and back to 18Hz. (J396.22.w1)
    • Contact call and contact answer are used usually (perhaps always) between members of a bond group. The contact call is heard by humans as a soft, unmodulated sound, and the elephant shows steady ear flapping while calling, then on finishing, lifts and spread the ears, raises the hear high and orientates slowly to both sides. The contact answer, preceded by the elephant suddenly lifting its head and ears as if listening, starts loud and abruptly and becomes softer. The calls are loudest when the caller and answering elephant are furthest apart. (J396.22.w1)
    • The "lets go" rumble is a long, unmodulated rumble, soft to the human ear and accompanied by steady are flapping. The elephant producing this stands at the periphery of the feeding, resting or otherwise stationary group and faces away from the group. The rumble may be repeated several times at intervals of a few minutes until the other elephants join her and the group moves off together. The fundamental frequency was recorded as 15 Hz, at pressure levels up to 63 +/- 3 dB at 25 m. (J396.22.w1)
    • The "musth rumble", produced only by bulls in musth, is a series of very low frequency pulsated sounds, accompanied by ear waving and preceded by ear folding; it is often followed by a loud ear flap. Musth bulls emit musth rumbles several times per hour and often listen immediately before or after rumbling. A musth rumble was 14 Hz and 78 +/- 3 dB at 5 m. (J396.22.w1)
    • Several females together may answer a musth rumble, in a "female chorus" with fundamental frequencies modulated from 15 to 24 Hz and back to 15 Hz. (J396.22.w1)
    • After mating, a female often emits two or more loud, low frequency calls "post copulatory sequence". (J396.22.w1)
  • Contact calls have a mean peak frequency of 21 Hz; they typically last for four to five seconds. (J334.59.w1)
  • An analysis of 270 rumbles from six females at Disney's Animal Kingdom found that rumbles varied with individual and with the emotional state of the calling elephant. It was not possible, using multidimensional scaling analysis, to divide the rumbles into distinct subtypes. Rather, there was an extended graded variation across rumbles. It was acknowledged that this did not rule out the possibility of distinct rumbles in the wild, over a wider range of contexts, nor that analysis of a larger number of rubles would distinguish subtypes. (J334.70.w1)
  • The functional vocal tract during rumble production is nearly 3 m long (estimates of 2.8 and 2.95 m, indicating that the trunk is involved in the production of rumbles. (J334.70.w1)
  • Most calls of elephants are inaudible to humans due to their low fundamental frequencies (15 -25 Hz). (J54.20.w8)

Further information on the use of the senses in communication is provided in: African Elephant Loxodonta africana - Social Behaviour - Territoriality - Predation - Learning (Literature Reports) - Interactions with the same species)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)

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