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This deafening trumpet of an Asian elephant is something to behold...but there's so much more to the language of these gentle jungle giants. Elephas maximus use infrasonic rumbles (below our hearing range) that travel beneath thick jungle vegetation to stay in touch. Through these long travelling grumbles, it is thought that elephants herds communicate with one another across hundreds of miles. From bulls searching for mates to young elephants separated from the herd and crying out for help, there are hundreds of complex variations in the low-frequency vocalizations that Asian elephants make. Now with more powerful bioacoustic tools for studying animal communication, biologists are only just beginning to grasp the full breadth of elephant language.
In addition to trumpeting and grumbling, Asian elephants make unique 'chirps' and 'sqeaks' that have never been observed in African elephants. High-frequency and audible to us humans, these interesting sounds are commonly used in social contexts and illustrate the incredible variety of calls that have evolved in elephants. Nevertheless, when we hear the word elephant, our minds always come back to the thunderous roar of their trumpet. The massive size of the largest land mammal on our planet is matched by its impressive roar, a truly mammoth sound!
Habitat loss due to expanding human activity has forced 70% of wild Asian elephants to live their lives outside of protected areas. Here, they are vulnerable to illegal capture and poaching for ivory, meat and body parts. Listed as endangered since 1986, the Asian elephant continues to live a life under pressure. Elephant have long maintained an iconic status at zoos and circuses, for both of which the demand remains on the decline in the 21st century. Boasting a long average lifespan of 60 to 75 years, Asian elephants have suffered a decline in numbers of more than 50 percent over their past three generations.
Being incredible intelligent animals that live to a ripe old age, wild elephants and their herds critically depend on knowledge passed down from elders to calves. Such wisdom often comes in the form of knowing which trees will bear the most fruit at different times of the year, or which valleys will harbor vital waterholes during dry seasons. Today, climate change not only threatens the habitats of Asian elephants but the precious knowledge kept by herds for survival. Intelligent animals like elephants are also particularly vulnerable to damage done by poaching and captivity. Nearly a third of all Asian elephants live in captivity today. Throughout Southeast Asia, elephants are used for profit in tourism - the reliance of local businesses on their capture and mistreatment is a major threat to the survival of the Asian elephant. Despite the multitude of threats facing Asian elephants and their fragmented habitats, their declining population still lives spread across a vast region of the southern Asian continent and for this reason there remains hope to bring the Asian elephant back to prominence. They say 'an elephant never forgets' - today, it is our turn to listen to the Asian elephant and not forget the importance of their survival.
With Asian governments beginning to crack down on illegal elephant tourism and protected areas being expanded in some south Asian countries, there still remains hope to save the Asian elephant. Habitat connectivity and preservation of forest corridors are the central objective for the elephants who still exist across a wide range of Asian countries, from the far north reaches of India to the most southern islands of Indonesia. As wild elephants and humans continue to be pushed closer together by habitat destruction, education and community outreach come to the forefront of conservation efforts. Global conservation organizations are banding together with local initiatives to build awareness in the younger generations of local communities of the importance of preserving wildlife, as well as developing innovative projects to monitor the remaining elephants. There are enough people that care to turn it around for the Asian elephant - our message at SoundBites is to bring the voices of threatened wildlife to your doorstep, showing the beauty of their sound whilst carrying the importance of the message. If you are interested learning more about what you can do to support Asian elephant conservation efforts, click through to this page here.
Keep on listening!
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