Mindtrap

Watch: Elephants can make sounds on cue — and learn new ones

On command, just like our pets.

Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

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Having a “memory like an elephant” isn’t an understatement.

We know a lot about these beasts’ intelligence, but their ability to memorize sounds is just starting to come to light.

Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Elephants are known to make trumpeting noises, snorts, and low-frequency rumbles.

And it turns out they can do it on cue.

Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

For a September 6 study in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, a team of researchers trained 13 African elephants to produce an array of sounds when humans prompted them.

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And this recall went beyond the ordinary — researchers were able to encourage the beasts to make a few strange sounds, as well.

Here’s how the elephants respond to human commands:

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With a bit of encouragement, this elephant can trumpet loudly on cue.Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Rewards and reinforcement are a big part of getting elephants to recognize when to speak.Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
The researchers even trained elephants to make high-pitched noises that are atypical of their species.Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B
Another sound — the “throb” — is out of the ordinary for elephants, but they can still learn how to make it.Stoeger, et. al. / Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

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The researchers write that this is only the beginning of understanding elephants’ abilities to learn verbal cues, as well as why they seem to have such strong control over their vocal abilities and can learn to make new sounds.

“The next step is to deepen our understanding of contextual and vocal production learning and the underlying cognitive mechanisms ... as many open questions remain.”

Angela S. Stoeger and Anton Baotic, study authors

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Read more stories about animals here.

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