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Saint Louis Zoo gets a little noisier with new animal recordings project

Asian elephants Sri and Jade in their enclosure at the Saint Louis Zoo in 2015.
Robin Winkelman | Saint Louis Zoo
Saint Louis Zoo's Asian elephants Sri and Jade were recorded as a part of a new project to gather animal noises at the zoo.

On a normal day at the Saint Louis Zoo, Jade, a 9-year-old Asian elephant, might sleep, eat and play with her roommate Sri. But lately, her enclosure has gotten a little noisier, with sounds of elephants and other animals at the zoo.


The Zoo is recording sounds from some of its animals and playing the clips to them. The sounds help zoo employees see how the animals might normally act in the wild, zookeeper Liz Irwin said. In natural settings, the animals would be exposed to much more noise, whether it’s from the same species or different ones that would live close by.

“Whether it be the elephant hearing a noise from another elephant and waving their ears or making a sound in response to it, it’s just a great way for us to keep their minds moving,” Irwin said.

When an elephant waves its ears that can mean it’s curious about what it’s seeing or hearing, she said.

Irwin oversees the animals at the zoo’s River’s Edge, where elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses live. All of the animals in that area have been recorded, along with some birds and antelopes. Irwin said the next records will be of primates and carnivores.

To capture the noises, zookeepers borrow small tape recorders from the zoo’s audiovisual department and often leave them near the animals overnight.

The zoo plans to eventually develop an extensive database of animal sounds that could be used by researchers and to educate the public about threatened animals.

The sounds an animal makes can really be unexpected, Irwin said.

“A normal person would think of elephants as just making the normal trumpet sounds,” she said. “Well, we hear these high-pitched squeaks that sound like a dolphin. And when I started at the zoo, I never thought an animal could make a noise like that.”


Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.