Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell is Co-founder/CEO of Utopia Scientific and an instructor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Stanford University in California. Research in the O’Connell-Rodwell laboratory focuses on communication through vibrations in large mammals.
In a previous blog, I discussed Dr. O’Connell-Rodwell’s research as presented in a feature podcast from The American Physiological Society. Her research on elephant communication sparked quite a bit of conversation. Therefore, I decided to invite Dr. O’Connell-Rodwell to be interviewed, and she agreed. Here is an excerpt from our exchange.
Dr. Dolittle: In your podcast interview you mention using estrus calls. Given elephant social structure, could it also be possible to use baby calls to lure females in? Or do females only respond to the calls of their own young?
Dr. O’Connell-Rodwell: Interesting question. Baby elephants cannot produce infrasound until a certain point in time, the precise moment of which is still undetermined, and something that the folks at the San Diego Wild Animal Park are trying to figure out. So, if the females were close enough to the broadcast, such that infrasound was not necessary in order to attract family groups from afar, this might work, but given how intelligent they are, families might only react to their own young. The reason I used estrus calls is because it is a reproductive call that males would tune into whether they knew the female or not. And even then, these estrus calls tend to attract musth bulls and subadult bulls but not adult nonmusth bulls, so the use of estrus calls to attract male elephants back into a protected area may only work on these two types of bulls…age and hormonal status matter.