The Dallas Zoo recently opened an exhibit called “Giants of the Savanna.” A new group of four elephants was brought in to join the elephants, Jenny and Gypsy, already living there. The two groups, separated between the new savannah and the original pen, rumbled back and forth. Jenny and Gypsy exhibited snorkeling behaviors to learn about the newcomers. An elephant’s ability to interpret olfactory information comes from their highly developed Jacobsen’s organ and sensitive trunks. The new elephants have since been introduced and while still separated within the savanna, the two groups have been in touch. Smells Like Calf Spirit! (Arutemu)
So I already had elephants on my mind when Dave Sulzer’s videos appeared. The elephant music astounded me. The idea of giving elephants marimbas, mallets, and drums was novel and strangely exotic. I loved the sounds they made and was curious about the connection between their music and their communication. I wanted to learn more about how elephants converse and get to know one another.
Serendipitously, I’d recently received a copy of Elephant Talk by Ann Downer – but had been waiting until the perfect opportunity arose to read it. After seeing Dave’s elephants making music, I had to read it.
The book provides the latest research and information on all things related to the language of elephants and how they communicate. Researchers identified a universal set of calls and investigated how elephants are able to regroup after a day’s foraging or meet up at a watering hole. Messages are sent from animal to animal or between groups. Deep rumblings vibrate through a skull shaped to transmit sound. Their sensitive feet pick up those vibrations.
The importance of the family unit in elephant culture relates so closely to humans. I believe there’s something more to learn from these mighty mammals. With many of the great animals extinct, we’d suffer an unknowing loss if elephants disappear from the Earth. It might be to our benefit to make sure they stay around.
Dave Sulzer might be on to a new way to learn more about these elephants. In any case, it certainly makes for beautiful music.