An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Elephants possess an incredibly rich repertoire of communication techniques, including hundreds of calls and gestures that convey specific meanings and can change depending on the context. Different elephant populations also exhibit culturally learned behaviors unique to their specific group. Elephant behaviors are so complex, in fact, that even scientists may struggle to keep up with them all. Now, to get the animals and researchers on the same page, a renowned biologist who has been studying endangered savanna elephants for nearly 50 years has co-developed a digital elephant ethogram, a repository of everything known about their behavior and communication.
[Joyce Poole, co-founder and scientific director of ElephantVoices, a nonprofit science and conservation organization, and co-creator of the new ethogram] built the easily searchable public database with her husband and research partner Petter Granli after they came to realize that scientific papers alone would no longer cut it for cataloging the discoveries they and others were making. The Elephant Ethogram currently includes more than 500 behaviors depicted through nearly 3,000 annotated videos, photographs and audio files. The entries encompass the majority, if not all, of typical elephant behaviors, which Poole and Granli gleaned from more than 100 references spanning more than 100 years, with the oldest records dating back to 1907. About half of the described behaviors came from the two investigators’ own studies and observations, while the rest came from around seven other leading savanna elephant research teams.
While the ethogram is primarily driven by Poole and Granli’s observations, “there are very few, if any, examples of behaviors described in the literature that we have not seen ourselves,” Poole points out. The project is also just beginning, she adds, because it is meant to be a living catalog that scientists actively contribute to as new findings come in. Poole and Granli believe the exhaustive, digitized Elephant Ethogram is the first of its kind for any nonhuman wild animal. The multimedia-based nature of the project is important, Poole adds, because with descriptions based only on the written word, audio files or photographs, “it is hard to show the often subtle differences in movement that differentiate one behavior from another.” Now that the project is online, Poole hopes other researchers will begin contributing their own observations and discoveries, broadening the database to include cultural findings from additional savanna elephant populations and unusual behaviors Poole and Granli might have missed.