When elephants hear human voices, they can hear by sussing out clues about age, gender and ethnicity whether the person is a threat or not.
A new study by researchers at the University of Sussex and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants played recordings of human voices to wild elephants in Kenya and observed their reaction. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Our results demonstrate that elephants can reliably discriminate between two different ethnic groups that differ in the level of threat they represent.”
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 behavioural responses,”
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.