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Sounds of Silence
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Home > Elephants of Cameroon > About The Species > Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence

by Jayne Owen Parker

Page 2 : Long Distance Calls

People can, of course, hear many of the sounds that elephants make. We hear them trumpet, snort, roar, growl and even rumble. Sometimes, though, the pitch of these rumbles falls below the range of human hearing. These low frequency sounds vibrate at around 18 - 22 cycles per second, a good tempo for long distance calls.

Low frequency sounds glide relatively undisturbed through wilderness. These wavelengths are only slightly muffled by forests or grasses. Because hills and trees do little to scatter the infrasonic sounds, they remain audible for two or more miles and can keep the lines of communication humming among elephants and their neighbors. The resulting web of silent chatter allows elephants to wander widely and unpredictably while still keeping in touch. The transmissions also enable elephants to live in a society that requires reliable long-distance information to function properly.

Elephants need dependable news from afar because adult males and females normally live apart. Females remain in the company of their female relatives, while adult males live more independently. Sometimes, males travel with female groups for a few days at a time. Mostly, though, the bulls wander alone or in the company of other males. Because males and females spend so much time apart, they must rely on long-distance information to tell them when to come together to mate.

The elephant's need for extended calling is made even more urgent by its general lack of concern for territory ownership. Neither bulls nor cows claim territories. Instead, both sexes wander, often unpredictably, over large areas. This wanderlust, coupled with the sexes' separate living arrangements, presents a special set of reproductive challenges. Without the benefit of bonded family ties, males and females must find each other in order to mate. Yet, without the benefit of territories, potential mates hardly know where to begin their searches.

Next Page : Infrasounds in the Mating Process
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