Do Animals Talk | Botswana Wildife Guide

Zebras. Michael PolizaZebras having a slight disageement
All species have methods of communicating with their own species either by vocal or non-vocal means but the debate sometimes occurs as to whether species can communicate with other species.

By Leigh Kemp

Do animals understand other species' communication?

Through my experience of watching animals I can positively say that there is a deal of inter-species understanding, be it through direct vocal communication or merely understanding the signs associated with the other species' communication methods.

Fear and Pheromones

It is believed animals, and in particular predators, can sense fear in human beings making them bolder when confronting by a human. When a human being is scared the bodily actions may betray the situation and/or certain pheromones associated with fear will be released.

It has been explained by some biologists that it is these pheromones that the predator senses and reacts accordingly while other biologists explain that the body movements betray a person's state of mind and it is this that the predator senses. It is true that a lion will seldom attack a human being who is facing up to it whilst standing still.Human beings do learn to understand some animal communication and can identify what the communication means. The question we will discuss here however is whether non-human animals can understand the communication of other non-human animals and the answer is a definite yes.

Alarm and Distress Calls

Species react almost immediately to the alarm call of other species. This is a survival technique to enable the prey species to interact and warn each other of danger. A Baboon in a tree may see a predator that Impala on the ground would not be able to see thus enabling the Impala to take action.I have watched Baboons' reactions to the calls of Impala and found that the warning snort is reacted to immediately by the Baboons and yet the male fighting snort does not raise any alarm at all. To the untrained ear these two calls are identical and yet baboons can differentiate immediately between the two.The same applies to Impalas' reaction to Baboons' alarm call as opposed to disciplining screams. Despite the fact that Baboons' scream in seeming fear when being disciplined impalas in the vicinity will not react at all and yet with the first alarm call they will immediately take heed.Hyenas can pick up the distress call of an animal from a great distance away. I have watched Hyena walking in one direction, stopping and listening, then running off in the opposite direction. What had peeked their interest? The call of an injured animal or the sounds of a kill in progress!I have observed a single Hyena tackling an old Buffalo bull that was unable to stand up. The Hyena happened on the old bull by chance and sensing that the Buffalo was in trouble the Hyena began to bite at various parts of the body, moving away each time the bull struggled. After a while the Buffalo began to bellow at each bite. Within minutes eight more Hyenas were on the scene and the Buffalo was killed quickly. It is also possible that the Hyenas picked up the scent of blood.

Antelope and lions

The reaction of Antelope to Lions is very interesting. If a Lion is spotted an alarm call is given to warn all the other animals and others will get involved in the calling. When a Lion has been spotted it will usually give up the hunt and move off, followed at a distance by the Antelope. They do this to keep the predator in sight and to see it off.

On other occasions when a Lion is spotted there may be a brief commotion but then the animals will settle down but still keep a wary eye on the predator as it moves past. On these occasions the lion is not interested in hunting and the Antelope seem to be able to sense this. Is this communication in the body posture or is there some other signal exuding from the Lion.
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