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Elephants are well known for their socio-cognitive abilities and capacity for multi-modal sensory perception and communication. Their highly developed olfactory and acoustic senses provide them with a unique non-visual perspective of their physical and social worlds. The use of these complex sensory signals is important not only for communication between conspecifics, but also for decisions about foraging and navigation. These decisions have grown increasingly risky given the exponential increase in unpredictable anthropogenic change in elephants’ natural habitats. Risk taking often develops from the overlap of human and elephant habitat in Asian and African range countries, where elephants forage for food in human habitat and crop fields, leading to conflict over high-quality resources. To mitigate this conflict, a better understanding of the elephants’ sensory world and its impact on their decision-making process should be considered seriously in the development of long-term strategies for promoting coexistence between humans and elephants. In this review, we explore the elephants’ sensory systems for audition and olfaction, their multi-modal capacities for communication, and the anthropogenic changes that are affecting their behavior, as well as the need for greater consideration of elephant behavior in elephant conservation efforts.


This article was originally published in Animals and can be accessed at

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( 4.0/).



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