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Forest Elephants : Rumbles in the Jungle

In March 2010, Richard Armitage narrated a documentary for BBC Two in their Natural World series.

The subject of the film was the work of American biologist Andrea Turkalo, who has spent the last 20 years studying elephants in the Central African Republic.

Her studies of a large group of elephants that use the Dzanga clearing in the forest have revealed much about their complex social lives, and she is now considered one of the world's leading experts on forest elephants.

As well as studying the elephants of Dzanga Bai, Turkalo's presence has helped to protect them from the attentions of poachers. Whenever she leaves the area for short periods the poachers move in, killing the elephants for their valuable tusks.

The film explored the way the elephants communicate. Turkalo's sound recordings of their vocalisations are sent over the Internet to a team of scientists at Cornell University's Elephant Listening Project. Their analysis of the recordings is throwing new light on the way that forest elephants communicate with each other, and on their social behaviour. The scientists are slowly discovering the vocabulary of the 'language' the elephants use to talk to each other and express emotions.

Many of the sounds they make are at very low frequencies that humans cannot hear, and which have only been discovered in recent years as a result of the study of recordings like Turkalo's. The low frequency sounds can travel over a mile in the dense forest in which they live, allowing the animals to signal to each other over long distances. It's these infrasonic calls that form the main part of the elephants' communications. Some of the these sounds are sensed by humans as 'rumbles', hence the name of this documentary.

Eleven short excerpts from the programme can be seen on the BBC iPlayer page for this program (only in the UK) - or watch the clip below.


Further information

BBC Natural World page about the programme

Cornell University's Elephant Listening Project website contains more information about the forest elephants and their 'language'. It includes a page about Andrea Turkalo's work in the Dzanga clearing

Article accompanying a recent CBS 60 Minutes documentary
about Andrea Turkalo


Video clip from Forest Elephants : Rumbles in the Jungle

This excerpt from the beginning of the programme introduces Andrea Turkalo and the elephants of Dzanga Bai.


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