March 30, 2004

Walks Like an Elephant, Sounds Like a Truck

I'M A MAN OF SIMPLE PLEASURES, such as listening to an elephant do an impression of a truck. You might mock that, but did you ever hear a truck do an impression of an elephant? I thought not.

Researchers have recorded two African elephants (Loxodonta africana) that are adept mimics. One does a decent impression of an Asian elephant, and another is, remarkably, a dead ringer for a passing truck. The skilful impressions are far from the traditional grunts of an average African elephant....

The two elephants in question are Mlaika, an adolescent female living in a semi-captive group in Kenya, and Calimero, an adult male who lived for 18 years with two Asian elephants at a Swiss zoo. Calimero, perhaps unsurprisingly, mimics the typical chirp noises of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). "But Mlaika seemed to be making noises like a truck, of all things," Tyack recalls....

Tyack and his team think Mlaika's habit is due to her upbringing, which was within earshot of a road....

"In both of these cases it seems that they were deprived of proper role models," says elephant expert Katharine Payne of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

-- Elephants do impressions -- Mimicry of trucks and zoo-mates shows range of vocal repertoire.

Well, we all know how important rolling Peterbilt role models can be to elephants. Here's the recording.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 30, 2004 12:00 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I read a study a couple of decades ago involving birds and their songs. Deprived of social interaction birds do not know how to sing. They make pathetic little noises totally unlike the song they should sing. And if immersed in a foreign society they attempt to sing the new song. I'm sure you saw the item about the mechanical scarecrow made in the USA and sent to China for airport bird control. It blared the screeches of predators unknown to the indigenous bird pop and they ignored it. It had to be reprogrammed. There's both a lesson and a joke in there somewhere.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 30, 2005 1:59 AM

BTW, I like the new format in the sidebar. More room for good stuff.

Posted by: Steel Turman at March 30, 2005 2:01 AM