Field biologist Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell, PhD, has an up-close-and-personal relationship with elephants living in the wilds of Africa. She has spent decades of summers hunkered down in a bunker or perched atop a tower observing their behavior and has written numerous scientific studies on her findings. (Some videos of her work and the elephants’ sounds can be found on Utopia Scientific’s website.)
O’Connell-Rodwell wrote a series of blogs from Namibia this summer in the New York Times, in which she referred to her research subjects on a first-name basis, revealing a love and respect for these creatures that she’s come to know so well.
In the wilds of Africa, when it’s time for a family of elephants gathered at a watering hole to leave, the matriarch of the group gives the ‘let’s-go rumble’ — as it’s referred to in scientific literature — kicking off a coordinated and well-timed conversation, of sorts, between the leaders of the clan.
First, the head honcho moves away from the group, turns her back and gives a long, slightly modulated and — to human ears — soft rumble while steadily flapping her ears. This spurs a series of back and forth vocalizations, or rumbles, within the group before the entire family finally departs.
O’Connell-Rodwell is also an instructor in otolaryngology here. This latest study adds to a body of research which, she hopes, will lead to advances in hearing aids for the hearing impaired, using the new understandings of elephants’ use of vibrations for communication.