We describe the interactive nature of vocalizations emitted by African elephant (Loxodonta africana) family groups while visiting waterholes. Despite being in close visual contact with each other, individuals called interactively within a series of overlapping or antiphonal vocal bouts that increased significantly while departing from the waterhole. After initiating departure from the waterhole, elephants in this study increased their calling rate and their production of overlapping vocal bouts. The majority of calls either overlapped or occurred within 1.5 seconds of another call as part of an antiphonal bout, rather than as isolated calls. The departure of larger herds was accompanied by a greater number of calling bouts. The increase in interactive antiphonal bouts during departure might serve to facilitate group coordination and cohesion, as well as possibly reinforce social bonds. The longer repeated bouts could also facilitate eavesdropping by distant elephants by boosting signal detection since the repetition of these longer calls may yield an increase in the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) that reduces the noise floor for better longer distance communication.
C. E. O'Connell-Rodwell, J. D. Wood, M. Wyman, S. Redfield, S. Puria, L. A. Hart (2012). Antiphonal vocal bouts associated with departures in free-ranging African elephant family groups (Loxodonta africana) Bioacoustics 21(3):215-224