Elephants are amazing creatures for a lot of reasons. The latest one to be confirmed by science? They can sense rainstorms from 240km away. What's more amazing is that researchers think they do it by simply listening to the sound of the air.
This discovery is the result of a seven-year-long study that tracked elephant migration in Namibia. Researchers planted GPS receivers on nine elephants around the country and found a curious pattern to their movement during the rainy season. When the storm were sometimes up to 240km away, these elephants "exhibited statistically valid non-random near-simultaneous changes in movements" that sent them in the direction of the rainfall.
"The elephants undergo these sudden migrations that previously have not been explained," Texas A&M professor Oliver Frauenfeld, who co-authored the study, told Popular Science. "They need the rain. After a prolonged dry season, once the elephants hear the rain, they start moving towards it, and it allows them to get the water sooner."
The researchers think that the uncanny meteorological abilities stem from their extraordinary hearing. We've long known that elephants communicate using extremely low frequency sounds, known as "infrasounds", that are well below the human range of hearing. It's entirely possible that the storms send out sound waves that the elephants can also hear and respond to.
The hope is that this new insight into elephant movements will help conservationists come up with strategies to keep the beautiful creatures away from poachers. Because by the time anyone hears a gunshot, it's too late. [PLOS ONE via PopSci]