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The struggle for the protection of endangered species sometimes requires a good deal of creativity, as demonstrated by the biologists of the University of Oxford, who together with their geophysical colleagues have developed a system to track the movements of elephants using technologies usually used in earthquake detection.

The vibrations of the elephant. Like many large animals - including whales and the missing T.rex - the pachyderms are able to communicate with each other at great distances. Researchers have discovered that their barrits propagate, as well as in the air, even in the ground, and can therefore be detected with geophones, very simple sensors capable of picking up low-frequency waves that propagate in the soil.

elephants, pachyderms, poachers, poaching, ivory, elephant tusks, sound waves, geophone A vertical geophone: it is a very simple - and therefore relatively cheap - tool used to build seismic survey networks, but it also has very common uses, for example the search for water leaks under the road surface. |

The study, published in Current Biology, confirms the idea that elephants communicate at a distance through the vibrations of the ground. According to Beth Mortimer, research coordinator, the force generated by the barrito of elephants (the vibrations produced by sound waves) is comparable to that discharged to the ground when they walk quickly. The sound is thus able to propagate in the ground and to cover much higher distances than those it reaches spreading in the air.

Stuck by the wave. Elephants also emit low-frequency sounds, around 20 hertz, which cannot be picked up by the human ear. The researchers focused on these rumblings and found that they spread over the ground for over 6 km. The study also finds that these animals are able to send themselves signals at a distance by beating their paws with force on the ground: the vibrations caused by these hammer blows spread through the ground for 3-4 km.

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According to Mortimer, the sound waves generated by a group of animals fleeing from poachers could then be intercepted and used to identify the area where the attack is taking place, so as to alert the police and try to save the animals before that it is too late.