Uncovering the Intricate Greetings of Elephants and Their Social Bonds

Uncovering the Intricate Greetings of Elephants and Their Social Bonds

In a recent study conducted at the Jafuta Reserve in Zimbabwe, researchers have observed the complex greeting behaviors of nine semi-captive African elephants. The study, led by Vesta Eleuteri and Angela Stoeger from the University of Vienna, recorded 89 greeting events which included a total of 1,282 behaviors, combining both physical actions and vocalizations.

The researchers noted that elephants adjusted their greeting style based on whether the recipient was visually attentive. Visual gestures such as ear-spreading, trunk-reaching, and trunk-swinging were more commonly used when the other elephant was not looking. Conversely, rumbling with flapping ears was the most frequent greeting among females, indicating a potential preference for auditory communication in certain social contexts.

The study also revealed that scent plays a considerable role in these interactions, with urination, defecation, and secretions from a unique sweat gland present in 71% of the greetings. This finding suggests that olfactory cues are integral to elephant social communication.

Male elephants, in particular, displayed "investigative" greetings, which are considered more risky due to the competitive nature of their interactions. These findings highlight the nuanced and intentional ways in which elephants use a combination of senses to communicate, potentially strengthening social bonds within their groups.


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