Elephants can tell whether a human poses a threat by listening to
his voice and sussing out subtle clues about his age, gender and
ethnicity, according to a study released on Monday.
Researchers from the University of Sussex and the Amboseli Trust for
Elephants played recordings of human voices to wild elephants in
Kenya and watched how they reacted.
"Our results demonstrate that elephants can reliably discriminate
between two different ethnic groups that differ in the level of
threat they represent," the authors said in an article published in
the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study said an elephant herd was more likely to bunch up in a
defensive position following playbacks of voices of Maasai people,
an East African ethnic group that has hunted elephants for
centuries, than other groups.
"Moreover, these responses were specific to the sex and age of
Maasai presented, with the voices of Maasai women and boys,
subcategories that would generally pose little threat, significantly
less likely to produce these behavioral responses," according to the
The researchers said the findings provided the first proof elephants
can distinguish between human voices, and suggested that other
animals seeking to avoid hunters may also have developed this skill.
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"Considering the long history and often pervasive predatory threat
associated with humans across the globe, it is likely (this ability)
could have been selected for in other cognitively advanced animal
species," it said.
(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis; editing by G. Crosse)
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