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What Is This Elephant Doing?

Posted by at 7:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (26)


What is This Elephant Doing(a) Walking

(b) Taking a nap

(c) A stupid circus trick (bullhook hidden from view)

(d) The same thing my dog does when she holds her breath

And the answer is …

I forgot to mention that this elephant is frozen in place, not moving, so (a) cannot be the right answer. If you chose (a), feel free to try again. Are his eyes closed? Perhaps, but he stood like this for only 10 or 20 seconds, not long enough for sleep to be of much help (and have you ever tried to sleep while holding one leg up?)-(b) is out. Oh, and this is a wild elephant. I took this photo during my recent trip to Botswana, so we can nix (c) as well. That leaves (d) as the correct answer. Here’s why:

Have you ever noticed that when dogs listen intently-to a faint sound outside the house, say-they freeze and hold their breath so that they can hear better? The photo shows the marvelous elephant version of doing that. OK, it’s not exactly like the dog analogy, because the elephant is listening to vibrations in the ground, very low frequencies that we can’t hear. When elephants are concentrating on this, they freeze in place and hold a front foot in the air for several seconds at a time, often closing their eyes to focus their attention. It looks like they are taking a short nap in mid-stride (which is the fanciful explanation that I was told when I first saw it).

It’s a riot to see several elephants in a group doing this at once: “Hey, did you hear that? Listen!” So they stand frozen, holding their legs in the air as if in a trance. Then they instantly continue with other activities, as if breaking a spell. Putting more pressure on three legs by lifting one might amplify the sound through special pads in their feet and help them triangulate the location of the source. They can detect individual nuances in subsonic calls transmitted through the ground over very long distances. This way, they track other elephants much farther away than the range of vision or airborne calls. Amazing!

Elephants

These guys just broke their séance. Time to play in the mud!

Like so many animals, elephants are tuned in to a world quite beyond our sensory reach. Getting back to my dog, I sometimes play hide and seek with her when we are in the woods. But it’s no contest – she chases down my scent trail like there’s nothing to it. I think all other animals are tuned in to some aspects of the world that we are unaware of. Got any favorite examples to share with us?

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    jean says...

    October 1st, 2008, 2:30 pm

    Hi, Steve. What a great story about elephants. I had no idea. Do you know how they actually communicate with each other? Is it verbally or through more subtle means? Animals do seem to have an extraordinary sense far beyond our understanding.

    Steve says...

    October 1st, 2008, 3:09 pm

    Jean-
    Elephants communicate with each other in all sorts of ways: eye contact, body language, physical touching – including intertwining their trunks – ear flapping, scents, and lots of different vocalizations.
    The discovery of their subsonic calls is relatively recent, however. They call at such low frequencies – 15 to 20 Hz – that people just can’t hear them, and it is these call that travel so well in the ground. Elephants can hear them from several MILES away, and can talk back and forth at great distances – by listening to the ground as in the photo!
    -Steve

    Tiny says...

    October 1st, 2008, 4:52 pm

    This is a very nice article. I really enjoyed it. I wish people would learn more about animals so they could start to appreciate their uniqueness and individual personalities and stop objectifying them.

    Carol Allie says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 4:27 pm

    Why don’t you ask Ingrid about how PETA euthanizes 99% of their rescues instead of trying to find them homes? My money will go to Best Friends in Utah from now on.

    K.B. says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 4:36 pm

    I think it is extremely arrogant on the part of humans to simply deny any special talents that non-himans have, thus simplifying the whole human-animal relationship, when the fact is that we are the ones that are way too rudimentary in our knowledge of our fellow beings, and their ways of going about their lives are too complex for us to detect and understand yet.

    Nancy Ball says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 4:38 pm

    Steve, this was a very interesting article! Elephants are beautiful animals. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Laurie Greene says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 4:57 pm

    OK…is this really true? Does PETA really euthenize 90% of its rescue animals?

    Anne Marie says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 5:06 pm

    What a lovely article. Elephants are such majestic creatures. Thank you, Great work Steve!!

    David Fiske says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 6:31 pm

    Terrific story thank you.

    Helen says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 7:38 pm

    I need to read where you found that Peta euthanized 99% and of what rescues are you referring to?

    sue says...

    October 3rd, 2008, 11:45 pm

    There’s so much we can learn from animals. I think they get it. They’re spiritual and I am in awe of all animals including my own rescued dogs. When they came from horrible situations such as starving and freezing, embedded collars that were infected, they fell into our home life with joy and love extraordinare. My heart swells when I lie down to sleep and can reach over and kiss the nose of a four legged miracle. Thanks for the article about elephants.

    Renee says...

    October 4th, 2008, 8:09 am

    Carol,

    What do you base that comment on? I am a member of both Peta and Best Friends. Any time I’m wearing a Peta shirt, someone will approach me and make the same comment. I have never heard anything about animals being killed.
    I’m vegan and I applaud Peta for their undercover work to expose the abuse of farm animals.
    This isn’t an attack. I seriously would like to know why so many people make the claim about Peta euthanizing animals.

    Merilyn says...

    October 4th, 2008, 12:23 pm

    I remember I once called PETA a long time ago re a stray cat population I was feeding in FL. I was told to put them to sleep which really threw me off, as I’d had a whole other notion of what PETA was about. I, too, love what they do, but they do seem to love euthanasia a bit too much. Very sad. I’m all for finding homes or at least spaying, when it comes to stray cats. Pray for me to win the lotto so I can help them all!!!!

    Merilyn says...

    October 4th, 2008, 1:13 pm

    Just wondering…..what’s PETA’s feelings towards VP candidate, Sarah Palin? I despise her! Shooting moose, etc, from a helicopter!! If she has no compassion for animals, she won’t have any for you or me. We don’t need anyone who will inhibit the work that all the great animal rights people are doing. Don’t let the pretty face fool you, she is evil.

    Laura says...

    October 4th, 2008, 1:19 pm

    A fascinating, long-term study of elephant communication can be found here:

    http://www.elephantvoices.org

    karen wall says...

    October 4th, 2008, 7:05 pm

    Hey there! What a cool story! There’s a reason animals have been around longer than humans! My dog does this and he is so funny becasue he just stands there.

    enrique says...

    October 5th, 2008, 6:47 pm

    awesome!

    Danielle says...

    October 5th, 2008, 8:12 pm

    Thank you for the lovely story. I love to hear stories like that. You know ever since I was a little girl, animals have always melted my heart. I always loved them and of course still do. I recently joined the PETA and ASPCA, in which I am very graqteful that I did. I have seen some disturbing videos and now have the knowledge to pass on that I have about these companies such as Hormel torturing these poor animals. I have spread the word ever since I saw that. It has changed my world. I know longer have respect for people like that. They can all go to hell for all I care. These videos inspire me to become what I always wanted to be… an ASPCA Officer and animal activist. It’s going to happen. I will work hard for the poor animals and become their voice. They need our help. Right now, all I can do is pray for them and donate money when I can but soon I will be able to take ACTION!

    Renee says...

    October 6th, 2008, 8:35 am

    Merilyn,
    Wow, this is all news to me. I’ve been a member of Peta for 14 years and never heard these things.
    I too care for all the stray cats in my area. I have found homes for many and taken in quite a few myself. I can’t imagine having them put to sleep. It’s not their fault they were left to survive on the streets.
    I loathe Sarah Palin. I’d like to have 5 minutes alone with that woman. Not to be catty, but I don’t find her pretty at all.
    I hope you do win the lotto Merilyn so you can help all those fur babies.
    Bless you for being so kind.

    Tucker says...

    October 6th, 2008, 3:38 pm

    I to belong to Peta and ASPCA
    Have for quite awhile now!!!!!!!!!!!
    I WILL DO ANYTHING TO SAVE AND HELP ANIMALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    WE the humans are there voices and protection, Animals NEED ALL THE SUPPORT AND HELP THEY CAN GET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    THIS Elephant article was VERY SWEET and IT WAS GREAT TO FINALLY READ SOMETHING IN A GREAT WAY RATHER THAN A HORRIABLE WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Steve says...

    October 6th, 2008, 8:02 pm

    What a lively discussion! For those of you who understood the point of my article, thank you for your support of this project. Stay tuned as we explore the lives of butterflies, frogs, and birds in the next few weeks.

    Laura: thanks for the link to elephant voices. Very nice!

    RE: Sarah Palin. IRS regulations don’t allow PETA to endorse political candidates – that would threaten their status as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt charity. We are all delighted anytime people choose to adopt a dog rather that buy one from a breeder, though, especially if those people happen to be the Obamas: http://blog.peta.org/archives/2008/09/

    For those of you wishing to talk more about the disinformation on PETA’s euthanasia rates, here’s an open forum for doing just that: http://www.peta.org/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=8304
    The discussion is on CCF, of course, which represents the meat, dairy, and tobacco industries and has a vested interest in slamming PETA. My favorite take on the CCF, though, is from a totally disinterested 3rd party: Sharon Begley, the science reporter for Newsweek magazine:
    http://www.blog.newsweek.com/blogs/labnotes/archive/2008/01/24/would-you-like-mercury-with-your-sushi.aspx

    Best Friends: compassionate, yes. But not the answer to the animal overpopulation crisis. They simply don’t provide sanctuary for very many animals. The answer to the underlying problem is spay and neutering, and shutting down the breeders. PETA is leading the charge in both those areas.

    Thank you all, and I will see you later in the week to celebrate butterflies!

    Amen A. Sigala says...

    October 7th, 2008, 11:59 am

    Martindale
    I never knew or realized dogs hEld thier breath, actually I think I did but have forgotten since I don’t own one. I realiized that we humans at times hold r breath aswell & or raise our hand up to our ears when we r also trying to hear something better! = ) Wow! Amazing! This of course helps drown out all uneccesasry noise to hear better. We intinctivly do it too!!
    Merilyn
    I agree, though that pretty face can’t fool me, because I know it’s all made up most likely w/ cosmetics containing animal by products! And thks for the info too on her Moose hunting!
    Renee
    Absolutly true about cats & any other anmal for that matter! And Palin can’t be all that attractive if she’s wearing all that make-up! So yeah, she can’t be all that pretty.
    Tucker
    SO TRUE!!!! It’s wonderful to hear of the wonder & beauty that we apreciate in animals rather than all the horror they indure under human barbarism! I have a need at times to use all caps too & always get flak for it! Nice to see someone else doing the same!!
    Animals r awesome & NEVER DUMB!!!

    Marci says...

    October 7th, 2008, 4:33 pm

    Hi Steve. Thanks for the photos and the story. I’d like to add something else to it. The elephants also use their trunks to recieve vibrations. Notice in the photo that the tip of the elephant’s trunk is turned under and touching the ground. They will all dot his at the same time. looking forward to your next story/photo. Welcome back.

    Erica says...

    October 10th, 2008, 4:26 am

    Thank you Steve for your articule, elephants are such wonderful animals. Whenever we learn something new our lives are enriched so I thank all of you for your comments I’ve leaved several things from them all.

    Paula says...

    October 10th, 2008, 8:37 am

    E.ternal
    L.ove
    E.ntwined
    P.rophecy
    H.umble
    A.doration
    N.ow
    T.rue
    don’t forget to check out the NEw York Times arts and design section on-line to see the slide show of a artist work about a pet shop.
    Where is our e-mail to send to the government about the WHales sonar also in the news?

    Paula says...

    October 10th, 2008, 8:38 am

    love elephants see THe Elephant Sanctuary website

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