Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication

Overview

On a hot day in the African savannah, a group of elephants searches for food. While foraging they often lose sight of one another. Yet at the end of the day, in one coordinated movement, the elephants suddenly regroup. This coordinated movement—and others like it—has puzzled scientists and caused them to question how elephants communicate with each other. Since the 1990s, scientists have gathered significant data on elephant "talk." Biologists have determined that elephants use a complex system of communication ...

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Overview

On a hot day in the African savannah, a group of elephants searches for food. While foraging they often lose sight of one another. Yet at the end of the day, in one coordinated movement, the elephants suddenly regroup. This coordinated movement—and others like it—has puzzled scientists and caused them to question how elephants communicate with each other. Since the 1990s, scientists have gathered significant data on elephant "talk." Biologists have determined that elephants use a complex system of communication of at least ten distinct sounds, combined in many variations. Researchers are now asking: what do these sounds mean? As scientists study the elephant sounds that humans can hear, they are also identifying ways elephants communicate through nonverbal behaviors and making sounds too low for human ears. Scientists have realized that elephants even receive messages by using their sensitive feet to feel vibrations in the ground. All of these discoveries are helping elephant researchers better understand elephant behavior. But the elephant's time as a wild animal is running out. Threatened by habitat loss and illegally hunted for their ivory tusks, elephants are on the brink of extinction. Will understanding elephant talk be the key to saving the species?

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
Did you know that elephants use rumbling infrasound projections that are inaudible to human ears but can travel over an area of one hundred square miles and be received by other elephants? Were you aware that elephants engage in a very intricate set of non-verbal behaviors that reinforce social roles in groups? Have you ever seen elephants "shake hands" by inserting their trunks in each other's mouths? Did you realize that elephants have been observed exhibiting mourning behaviors when they encounter the bones of dead elephants? All these questions, and many more, are answered in this engaging look at the ways in which elephants use communication to function in their worlds. In telling the story of elephant communication Ann Downer takes her readers into the world of animal studies in a way that will surprise, educate, inform, and move her readers. Elephants emerge from the pages of this book as highly intelligent, sentient beings that exist in complex matriarchal social groups. The threats imposed on elephants by poaching, environmental change, and human population growth all combine to make it possible that elephants may become extinct in the wild within a relatively few decades. As the author of this original and illuminating book indicates, such a result would be tragic and unforgivable. Readers should come away from this book both educated and enlightened, about not only the world of elephants; but also the ways in which human beings can act to save or destroy other life forms. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
VOYA - Jen McIntosh
This visually appealing book examines how elephants communicate with each other. Elephants make many more sounds than just the traditional trumpet people are familiar with and use body language, as well as vocals, to talk to each other. They are capable of long-distance communication using their feet to pick up vibrations in the ground. This is how they are able to rejoin their herds when separated over long distances. Downer describes various research studies about elephant communication and outlines what scientists have discovered and what they would still like to know. She talks about the different types of elephants and their social lives, as well as the dangers they face from hunters and poachers. Downer has formatted her book in an attractive mix of information and photographs. It is broken down into sections just large enough for the teen researcher and written in a lively tone interesting enough to engage the elephant enthusiast. The focus is so narrow that teens will probably not pick it up for recreational reading, but students with science projects about elephants will find it useful. Public libraries with teen nonfiction sections and a large budget would benefit from adding it to their collections, but the steep price and narrow focus make it less attractive for libraries with small budgets. Reviewer: Jen McIntosh
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—The complex behavior of wild elephants is introduced in a flowing narrative accompanied by full-color photographs, diagrams, and maps. Downer provides an overview of elephant evolution, places the creatures in their African and Asian contexts, and describes the lives of these intelligent social animals. Her narrative then focuses on the elephants' intricate verbal and nonverbal communication techniques, the physiology that enables them, and the studies and experiments scientists have conducted to learn more. The illustrations and clearly labeled diagrams and maps are well placed to amplify the text. A chapter on the elephant-human relationship contains interesting historical facts and important current information about the efforts of people to ensure the survival of elephants. Throughout this highly readable, informative title are profiles of individuals—an elephant keeper, a scout, researchers, and others—who work with these animals. The "Elephant Dictionary" will help future scientists understand an elephant's chirp, grunt, rev, rumble, and snort!—Frances E. Millhouser, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761357667
  • Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books (CT)
  • Publication date: 3/28/2011
  • Series: Single Titles Series
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 691,849
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 1220L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Downer was born in Virginia but spent part of her childhood in the Philippines and in Thailand, where she journeyed to Chiang Mai to see an elephant roundup for her twelfth birthday. She is the author of five fantasy novels for young readers and two previous books about science, including Spring Pool: The Ecology of Temporary Ponds. For many years she worked as a science editor at a university press. The best part of that job was getting to meet and work with a lot of scientists, but she also got to spend five minutes in a playpen with a litter of tiger cubs and kayak up the Susquehanna River with eighty arachnologists. More recently she has been looking for ways to combine her love of science and story through blogs, podcasts, and graphic novels. She lives outside Boston with her husband and son and one guinea pig.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A fascinating overview

    An elephant calf walks closely behind his mother, already closely observing her and others in the herd as he begins to learn their language. Elephant language, or "elephant talk," can be expressed in many ways from body language, a wide array of calls, and even infrasound communication. As young calves mature they continue to glean behavioral cues from their "close-knit family" in order to survive and thrive in their herds. For many years scientists have been hard at work gathering information on the way elephants communicate with one another. In this book you will be able to "listen" and look at the African savanna elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant, and walk right along beside scientists as they attempt to uncover the complex ways that elephants communicate with one another. You'll be able to get a glimpse at elephants who remain in captivity such as Daisy, and others who remain in the wild. Elephants have been by our side for thousands of years as they joined us "in religious festivals, guarded temples, and presided over weddings." They have gone to battle with us and have assisted us in building, but now are facing a battle of their own. With approximately 600,000 elephants remaining in the world, they now face extinction in the wild if poaching continues at its rapid pace. The more we can learn about "elephant talk," the more we may be able to help them help themselves. Observation has shown the different life stages of the elephant from its helpless beginning to toddlerhood, teens, and adulthood and how they absorb and learn language. Learning about elephants and their social networking has also helped scientists learn about language development. You will learn many things about their social behavior from how many generations coexist, to how they form alliances, to how they use tools. The integration of elephant verbal and nonverbal cues such as body language, socialization, and invisible ways of communication such as infrasound, bring this animal to life in a way that I haven't seen done in a book for this age group. We learn of the work of numerous scientists and scientific studies throughout these pages. Many young people have heard of animals such as Koko, but this book shows the elephant as a creature who can be just as beloved. There is an excellent chapter on human-elephant relationships that touches on animal rights, a topic that is of high interest to many students. There is an excellent selection of appealing photographs scattered throughout the book as well as several informative sidebars. For example, there is a very interesting one on how elephants can use "visual and chemical cues" to ferret out predators, including those of the human persuasion. In the back of the book there is an index, a listing of organizations assisting elephants, an "Elephant Dictionary," a selected bibiography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore. This is a Junior Literary Guild Selection. Quill says: This is a fascinating overview about elephant communication skills and how they "talk" to the world.

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