How to Speak Giraffe: Finding Out How Giraffes Communicate

It is a typical day on the African savanna. Lions roar, elephants trumpet, and giraffes… What sounds do giraffes make? Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, a scientist who learns about natural sounds, did a study to find out.

Giraffes Are Social Animals

Giraffes have long been thought of as tall, silent types. However, Ms. von Muggenthaler believed differently. After studying giraffe behavior, she realized that they are very social animals. If they did not communicate, they would not survive because they are hunted by other animals such as lions and crocodiles.

A Study on Giraffe Communication

To find out if giraffes could “talk,” Ms. von Muggenthaler conducted a study at the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina. During the study, she kept a mother giraffe and her calf inside, away from the rest of the herd. With the help of one of the zoo keepers, she observed the behavior of both groups of giraffes. The giraffes that were inside would stretch their necks and put their chins straight up in the air. At the same time, the giraffes outside showed signs of listening. They turned their heads and pointed their ears in the direction of the building where the mother and her calf were being kept.

What is Infrasound?

During this study, it was found that giraffes communicate using infrasound. These are low-pitched sounds that cannot be heard by the human ear. Infrasound can travel over miles and through solid objects. In addition to giraffes, whales, hippos, rhinos, and alligators also communicate through infrasound.

Giraffes Use Infrasound to Communicate

At the zoo, the giraffes’ infrasound was picked up by special microphones. It was transferred to a computer which allowed Ms. von Muggenthaler to see the sound waves. A special program increased the sound, making it possible for humans to hear it. The giraffes’ voices sounded like low drumbeats.

“We believe that giraffes are forcing large volumes of air up their long, long tracheas (wind pipes) and out a small opening which is actually their larynx (voice box). And that is creating the sound. If you could hear it, it would sound very much like a great burst of air,” says Ms. von Muggenthaler.

Giraffes Stand Guard on the Savanna

Today, on the savanna, zebras and other helpless animals are feeling safer because the giraffes are around. The giraffes use their long necks to everyone’s advantage, spotting enemies far off in the distance. Using infrasound, they warn other giraffes of danger. As other animals see the giraffes begin to gallop away, they seek safety, too. In this way, giraffes are the wordless watchtowers of the savanna.

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