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Elephants Are Able To Distinguish Voices Of Ethnic Groups, Study Finds

Update Date: Mar 11, 2014 11:11 AM EDT

African elephants are able to spot the different ethnic groups after hearing them speak just a few sentences, according to a new study. They are also able to distinguish between men and women and between adult and child. 

Researchers said that this ability also helps them decide if a nearby human is fearsome predator threat or a minor nuisance. 

"They're using vocal information from another species - us - and they're using that to discern threat," said study co-author Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Britain's University of Sussex, according to USA Today. "That takes really advanced cognitive abilities. ... These are subtle differences these elephants are attending to."

Further, the research found that those big ears hanging help elephants distinguish between roar of a single lion and roaring of a trio of lions. They can even distinguish between the signature calls of many other elephant groups which includes groups that they haven't seen for years. 

As subjects, 1,500 or so elephants roaming in Kenya's Amboseli National Park were chosen. The research is first to establish a fact that elephants can distinguish men and women and hence react accordingly to different level of risks. 

"The study is indicating that elephants are learning to adapt to a growing threat in their environment, and the unfortunate and disturbing part is that threat is us. ... It just goes to show how intelligent these animals are that they can be this flexible," said Joshua Plotnik, a behavioral ecologist at research non-profit Think Elephants International, who was not involved in the new study, according to USA Today.

This study was published in the issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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