Rumble in the Jungle; or Why, despite Having Giant Ears, Elephants Listen with Their Feet the Jungle

Article excerpt

WITH ears up to 6ft long, elephants shouldn't really need any extra help to hear.

But, according to a study, African elephants use their feet to 'listen' out for other herds.

Scientists have discovered elephants' feet are so sensitive to subtle vibrations that they can distinguish the calls of friends from strangers miles away - from the faintest rumbles in the ground.

Elephants have long been known to make low-frequency calls to communicate over long distances. As well as travelling through the air, these rumbles pass through the ground as seismic waves.

Dr Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell, of Stanford University Medical Centre in California, found the rumbles play a vital role in communication between herds, New Scientist magazine reports today.

Her team recorded alarm calls made by distressed elephants in Namibia and Kenya when lions were lurking nearby and played the seismic portion of the calls back to a herd at a watering hole in Namibia.

When the elephants detected these seismic waves from neighbouring herds, they froze and huddled in terror in tight groups, protecting their babies in the middle. However, when they were played the rumbles from unfamiliar elephants in Kenya, they barely reacted. …