How Do Elephants Communicate?

Elephants communicate primarily through vocal calls, though they also use other important methods. These include tactile behaviors, such as touching, as well as synchronized freezing. Elephants also communicate through the secretion of specific chemicals that other herd members can pick up through the elephant's advanced sense of smell.

Elephants use vocal calls in a wide variety of scenarios, including care for youngsters, resolving disputes and mustering the herd for march. Elephants can recognize the individual calls of hundreds of other elephants from a half-mile away, and many of the sounds created by elephants exist in a range unavailable to human ears, according to PBS.

In the sensual range of expression, touch is vital to the health of elephant communities with the trunk being the primary instrument. Use of the trunk can convey affection, heighten connection during mating and reinforce social bonds. Elephants display attention to the dead by using their trunks to touch the bones and remains of other elephants.

Synchronized freezing is a phenomenon whereby elephants collectively stop and peak their senses, thus allowing them to probe the environment for unfamiliar or threatening noises and smells. Elephants also use a wide variety of postures to transmit information. While the cause of ear flapping can be something as pragmatic as fanning in hot weather, it can also indicate an elephant's happiness or joy. Additionally, wide-spread ears and an elevated head may display high social status, whereas a socially subordinate elephant carries its head down and ears pinned. Finally, a raised tail and chin may communicate fear or alarm to the group, such as in the presence of a predator.