African Elephants Call Each Other by Unique Names, New Study Shows

 In this undated photo, an African elephant matriarch leads her calf away from danger in northern Kenya. (George Wittemyer via AP)
In this undated photo, an African elephant matriarch leads her calf away from danger in northern Kenya. (George Wittemyer via AP)
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African Elephants Call Each Other by Unique Names, New Study Shows

 In this undated photo, an African elephant matriarch leads her calf away from danger in northern Kenya. (George Wittemyer via AP)
In this undated photo, an African elephant matriarch leads her calf away from danger in northern Kenya. (George Wittemyer via AP)

African elephants call each other and respond to individual names — something that few wild animals do, according to new research published Monday.

The names are one part of elephants' low rumbles that they can hear over long distances across the savanna. Scientists believe that animals with complex social structures and family groups that separate and then reunite often may be more likely to use individual names.

“If you’re looking after a large family, you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Hey, Virginia, get over here!’” said Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the study.

It’s extremely rare for wild animals to call each other by unique names. Humans have names, of course, and our dogs come when their names are called. Baby dolphins invent their own names, called signature whistles, and parrots may also use names.

Each of these naming species also possesses the ability to learn to pronounce unique new sounds throughout their lives — a rare talent that elephants also possess.

For the study in Nature Ecology & Evolution, biologists used machine learning to detect the use of names in a sound library of savanna elephant vocalizations recorded at Kenya's Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.

The researchers followed the elephants in jeeps to observe who called out and who appeared to respond — for example, if a mother called to a calf, or a matriarch called to a straggler who later rejoined the family group.

Analyzing only the audio data, the computer model predicted which elephant was being addressed 28% of the time, likely due to the inclusion of its name. When fed meaningless data, the model only accurately labeled 8% of calls.

“Just like humans, elephants use names, but probably don't use names in the majority of utterances, so we wouldn't expect 100%,” said study author and Cornell University biologist Mickey Pardo.

Elephant rumbles include sounds that are below the range of human hearing. The scientists still don't know which part of the vocalization is the name.

Researchers tested their results by playing recordings to individual elephants, who responded more energetically, ears flapping and trunk lifted, to recordings that contained their names. Sometimes elephants entirely ignored vocalizations addressed to others.

“Elephants are incredibly social, always talking and touching each other — this naming is probably one of the things that underpins their ability to communicate to individuals,” said co-author and Colorado State University ecologist George Wittemyer, who is also a scientific adviser for nonprofit Save the Elephants.

“We just cracked open the door a bit to the elephant mind.”



Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Greece Battles Wildfires Fanned by Gale Force Winds

A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)
A plane drops water during a wildfire, in Kitsi, near the town of Koropi, Greece, June 19, 2024. (Reuters)

Hundreds of firefighters struggled on Saturday to contain wildfires fanned by gale force winds on two Greek islands and in other parts of Greece, as authorities warned many regions face a high risk of new blazes.

More than 30 firefighters backed by two aircraft and five helicopters were battling a wildfire burning οn the island of Andros in the Aegean, away from tourist resorts, where four communities were evacuated as a precaution.

"More firefighters (are) expected on the island later in the day," a fire services official told Reuters, adding there were no reports of damage or injuries.

Wildfires are common in Greece, but they have become more devastating in recent years amid hotter and drier summers that scientists link to climate change. A wildfire near Athens last week forced dozens to flee their homes, which authorities said they believed was the result of arson as well as the hot, dry conditions.

Meteorologists say the latest fires are the first time that the country has experienced "hot-dry-windy" conditions so early in the summer.

"I can't remember another year facing such conditions so early, in early and mid-June," meteorologist Thodoris Giannaros told state TV.

On Friday, a 55-year-old man died in hospital after being injured in a blaze in the region of Ilia on Greece's Peloponnese peninsula, as several fires burned on Greece's southern tip.

Several hundred firefighters have been deployed to battle more than 70 forest fires across the country since Friday. High winds and hot temperatures will extend the risk into Sunday, the fire service said.

Earlier on Saturday, firefighters tamed a forest fire on the island of Salamina, in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens, and another about 30 kilometers east of the capital.

After forest fires last year forced 19,000 people to flee the island of Rhodes and killed 20 in the northern mainland, Greece has scaled up its preparations this year by hiring more staff and stepping up training.