African Elephants Use Defecation, Urination and Secretion to Greet Their Kin, 71% of the Time [Study]

African elephants are Earth’s largest walking animals which can be found in multiple countries across the continent of Africa, including in Kenya, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. In recent years, this elephant species Loxodonta africana has been a subject of various scientific research, including about the large mammal’s preference for food and its ability to give each other elephant specific calls or names.

Elephants have long been considered by scientists as relatively intelligence and sociable animals. Although they can be aggressive despite having the title of being “gentle giants,” elephants also have close-knit social structures that resemble human families. These elephant communities are headed by matriarchs and can be a multi-generational herd, a testament to the animal’s uniqueness.

While studies before have determined that elephants use vocalizations through loud noise and large ears as gestures to communicate, it remains unclear if these are the only modes of elephant communication. To address this knowledge gap, a new research paper revealed that African elephants also use defecation, urination, and secretion to greet their kin or fellow kin members.

African Elephant Defecation

African Elephants Use Defecation, Urination and Secretion to Greet Their Kin, 71% of the Time [Study]
(Photo : Photo by David Heiling on Unsplash)

The study was published in the journal Communications Biology on Thursday, May 9, where scientists found that inter-species greetings among L. africana individuals are also possible through African elephant defecation, urination, and secretion. The research paper led by the University of Vienna in Austria said that elephants have an unusual way of saying hello: by using their feces.

The paper selected semi-captive African savannah elephants as samples for the research to determine multi-modal communication and greeting behavior of the animals. The team confirmed that elephants have greeting rituals, involving the combination of physical and auditory gestures, as well as bodily chemicals like from feces, urine, and sweat from sweat glands.

Based on their findings, the gentle giants use their excretory system to greet each other 71% of the time, based on the cases examined by the University of Vienna researchers and their colleagues. In particular, the authors of the paper studied the vocalizations and the gestures of nine elephants at Jafuta Reserve in Zimbabwe between November 2021 and December 2021.

Also Read: Elephants Choose Their Food: New Research Reveals Individual Variation and Preferences

Elephant Communication

In addition, the researchers observed that the wild animals they sampled flap their large ears and produce sound from their trunks to greet each other. This is not the first time that elephants were observed communicating using physical gestures and vocalizations. However, the discovery of African elephants using the excretory system is scientifically remarkable.

The University of Vienna study shows that elephant communication is possible in ways that may seem unconventional to humans, which also use a combination of communication methods. According to experts, the excretory system is responsible for removing the body’s excess and waste products in the form of feces, urine, and sweat, in order to maintain homeostasis.

Related Article: Elephant Names: New Study Reveals African Elephants Give Each Other ‘Specific Calls’

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