Science News

Move Over Alistair Mcgowan

Sun, 27th Mar 2005

Part of the show Avian Flu, Viruses, Bed Bugs and Murder

Known more for their ability to uproot trees and spray water out of their trunks, scientists have discovered that elephants may have another hidden talent - doing impressions. Researchers studied sounds made by two African elephants, one living among orphaned elephants on a reserve and the other with two Asian elephants in a zoo. They found that one imitated rumbling trucks, the other imitated other elephants. For example, Mlaika, is a ten-year-old female African elephant living in Kenya among a group of orphans. They found she could imitate the noises she heard from trucks on a road nearly two miles away. Her imitations of the trucks sounded just like recorded truck sounds and nothing like normal calls of African elephants. When the scientists analysed the sounds, they found that Mlaika's truck impressions were near-perfect audio matches. The researchers also studied Calimero, an African elephant who lived for 18 years with two Asian elephants in a Swiss zoo. They found that Calimero could do perfect impersonations of his Asian zoo-mates, who make chirping calls that are completely different from the usual African elephant sounds. The scientists think that the ability to do impressions could help animals to communicate, or develop new ways of communicating. But I doubt we'll be seeing an elephant impression show on TV any time soon - I've heard they do a rubbish Tommy Cooper.


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