Elephant Hour Soundscape


Time spent with a herd of elephants enjoying their interactions, behaviour, rumbles  and various other interesting sounds as they go about their daily business.

Duration: 56 mins 51 sec

Listen to a Sample

It is mid-summer in Mashatu Game Reserve in the south east corner of Botswana and we join a herd of elephants feeding in an extensive patch of grassland on the edge of the woodland with the Majale River close by. Throughout the almost hour long sound safari the elephants make a variety of rumbles, growls and snorts or give the occasional trumpet. Other sounds include feeding by tearing up bundles of lush grass or breaking branches to get at the tender leaves, or to chew on the softer parts, or kicking up roots and knocking stones.

Dozens of Monotonous Larks are responding to the recent rains, males calling incessantly from the surrounding trees as they attempt to attract a female and they continue to call throughout the time the elephants are feeding in the grassland. A Spotted Hyaena whoops (3:30) and at later on a cow gives a loud ear clap (sounds somewhat like a gunshot); a signal of annoyance (4:40).

A Dark-capped Bulbul, a common resident in the reserve, calls loudly from the nearby woodland (5:40) with Ring-necked Doves calling in the background. Way in the distance a Grey Hornbill gives its piping call (7:4). Ring-necked Doves compete with the larks.

A troop of Chacma baboons move into the grassland to feed in amongst the elephants (13:05) making quiet grunting sounds as they feed. A male gives a loud yell (15:30). Then a youngster upsets one of the dominant members (16:40) and is severely reprimanded; screaming as it is chased up into the trees. The elephants pay little attention to this and continue feeding quietly.

A Helmeted Guineafowl gives a loud contact call (20:15) trying to locate its fellow flock members, calling again a little later (24:00). Suddenly several Spotted Hyaenas appear out of the woodland and march directly towards the elephants (25:45). The elephants react immediately, forming a defensive circle with the vulnerable youngsters in the middle and start to trumpet and roar in anger at this intrusion (26:10). There is relative silence for a few seconds apart from low rumbles, and it is now evident that the herd is also communicating with other groups by infrasound, a low level signal that is not audible to the human ear. As the safari vehicle is so close to the herd, the vibration from this powerful sound can be felt and it actually causes the microphones to vibrate. Other elephants in the far distance respond by trumpeting and probably by other infrasound signals.

The excitement now over, the herd quickly file past the vehicle as they head into the nearby woodland. One of the leading cows gives a loud ear clap as she goes by, signalling her continued annoyance at the hyaenas (30:25). A family of White-crowned Shrikes call as the elephants arrive and large numbers of bees are buzzing around the immediate area.

A Red-eyed Dove joins in on the bird chorus (31:00) competing with the ever-present Ring-necked Doves. The Monotonous Larks, so evident in the sparsely treed grassland, are no longer the dominant species. A Swainson’s Spurfowl takes flight (31:36) while some of the elephants are breaking branches. The herd settles now down in the welcome shade to rest, the calves lying down to sleep while a few adults still feed.

A Brown-hooded Kingfisher gives its shrill call (31:53) and the doves call loudly while most of the elephants relax. One of the hyaenas calls again (34:36) but this time the elephants pay little attention. The woodland is relatively quiet apart from the calls of various birds including a Swainson’s Spurfowl giving it harsh croaking sound. A high- pitched double whistle is a Kurrichane Thrush (36:45) and this is repeated at various intervals. One elephant tears down a huge branch (37:00) followed by a Grey-headed Bushshrike giving its mournful whistle, the female reacting a little later with a harsh grating call (39:25) repeated shortly afterwards while a Bearded Woodpecker starts tapping on a dead branch.

Well in the background a safari vehicle is heard – with other happy elephant watchers on board. A few harsh notes from a Meves’s Starling (39:03) are followed by a Red-eyed Dove and then the mechanical trill of a Crested Barbet. A Grey Go-away-bird cuts in between the songs of the two dove species (41:40). An African Green Pigeon gives its fluty call followed by several deep growls (42:22). The Go-away-bird calls again at various points whilst the wind picks up.

Suddenly the matriarch gives a deep “lets-go” rumble (44:48) indicating to the herd that it is time to move down to the nearby riverbed. The adults slowly start to react while the calves reluctantly come to their feet but make no further movement until the next few rumbles motivate them to make their way to the riverbank. A few animals start feeding again as they head for the water and we move with them to park the safari vehicle on the edge of the bank overlooking the large pool below.

A Woodland Kingfisher gives its loud trill as we arrive (47:34) and a Ring-necked Dove gives a loud chorus. As we stop a young bull appears out of the woodland right in front of us and comes to an immediate halt, rocking backwards and forwards on the damp riverbank making amazing squeaking sounds with his feet (48:48), before scurrying down the slope to the water.

The herd now enters the water sucking up water to drink, splashing it over their bodies and kicking up mud to eventually coat their hides against the sun and parasites. After bathing they slowly move to an open area to dust bathe while some of the herd still make the most of their time in the riverbed.

One of the adults gives a harsh growl. Is this a signal for everyone to leave the water and move slowly back through the woodland into the grassland where they will spend the night. The Woodland Kingfisher calls again (53:00)

We record a final rumble before reluctantly heading back to camp leaving the herd to feed in peace.

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