June 12, 2024


” They recognize and react to a call addressed to them while ignoring those addressed to others,” Michael Pardo, Study Lead Author.

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Groundbreaking study reveals Kenyan Elephants have names for each other

Groundbreaking study reveals Kenyan Elephants have names for each other

African Elephants call each other by name ;study reveals

In a groundbreaking discovery, researchers have discovered that elephants, much like humans, have names for each other. This revelation adds another layer to our understanding of these majestic creatures’ communication abilities.

Elephants have sophisticated social behaviours

Elephants have long been recognized for their intelligence and social behavior. They live in matriarchal societies, exhibit remarkable memory, and display a range of emotions. However, this recent study sheds light on an even more sophisticated aspect of their interactions – the use of specific sounds to refer to individual members of their group.

The Study: Methodology and Findings

The research, conducted by a team of scientists from The Colorado State University,  involved recordings of 469 vocalizations, known as rumbles, from elephant groups and their young. These recordings were made over several decades, from 1986 to 2022, at Amboseli National Park and the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves in Kenya.

By analyzing these recordings, the team discovered that elephants use distinct, individualized sounds when addressing or referring to one another.

Lead author Michael Pardo, explained, “Our findings indicate that elephants have a level of vocal communication complexity previously only attributed to humans and certain primates. Each elephant’s unique sound or ‘name’ is used consistently by others in the group, demonstrating a sophisticated social system.”

” They recognise and react to a call addressed to them while ignoring those addressed to others,” Michael Pardo added.

When the researchers played a clip to an elephant of their friend or family member calling out their name, the animal reacted positively and “energetically” and moved towards the speaker, the researchers said.

How Do Elephants Use Names?

The study highlights that elephants use these names primarily in social contexts. For instance, a mother might call her calf by its unique sound to keep track of it, or members of a herd might use names to coordinate movements and activities. This naming system likely helps maintain the social cohesion of the group, which is crucial for their survival in the wild.

Implications for Conservation and Further Research

Understanding that elephants have names for each other has significant implications for conservation efforts. It underscores the importance of preserving these animals’ social structures and natural habitats. Disruptions to elephant herds, such as poaching or habitat fragmentation, could have more profound impacts on their social systems than previously thought.

Dr. McComb emphasizes, “Protecting the social fabric of elephant communities is just as crucial as safeguarding their physical environments. This discovery of individualized communication adds another layer of urgency to our conservation strategies.”

The Future of Elephant Communication Studies

This study opens up new avenues for research into elephant communication and behavior. Future studies could explore how these vocalizations develop over an elephant’s lifetime, how they are learned by younger elephants, and the extent to which these names influence social interactions and hierarchies within herds.


The revelation that elephants have names for each other is a testament to their intelligence and social complexity. As we continue to uncover the intricacies of elephant communication, we gain not only a deeper appreciation for these incredible animals but also vital insights that can aid in their conservation.

Kenya Forum readers may also be interested in the posting, ‘The cure for cancer could be found in elephants’ testicles’ (25/10/2023)


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