Press Release

National News February 27, 2007
Sumatran rhino songs related to whales: Expert

National News - February 23, 2007

Novan Iman Santosa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The homecoming of 5-year-old Sumatran rhinoceros Andalas from the U.S. brings to light the fact that, like whales, Sumatran rhinos can "sing".

Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, president of the Hillsborough, North Carolina-based Fauna Communications Research Institute, told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that publicizing the fact that Sumatran rhinos also sing may contribute to efforts to protect this endangered species.

"The way rhinos and whales sing is very similar, nearly identical," she said by phone from Hillsborough.

"This shows that whales and rhinos might be closely related. It could be said that rhinos are whales on land."

The bioacoustics expert said she had been working with Andalas, born in the Cincinnati Zoo in 2001, since the calf was 6-months-old until he was moved to Los Angeles Zoo. Von Muggenthaler has been working on rhino vocalization since 1992.

Out of four rhino species, only Sumatran rhinos can sing. "The Indian, African black and white rhinos do not sing. We do not know anything about Javan rhinos because none are in captivity," she said.

When asked why only Sumatran rhinos sing, von Muggenthaler offered the suggestion that genetically Sumatran rhinos are the oldest of the species.

Three Sumatran rhinos, one male and two female, were recorded "singing" at the Cincinnati Zoo for a total of six hours in March, 2001.

According to a paper co-authored by von Muggenthaler, rhinos are exceptionally vocal, even producing sounds when they are eating. Results indicate that there are three main types of vocalizations, strung together to form a constant "song". The three calls are described as eeps, whistle blows and whales. The whale call is named so because it sounds similar to the song of the humpback whale.

The paper was published by the Acoustical Society of America at the American Institute of Physics and can also be found online at

Von Muggenthaler hoped once the fact that Sumatran rhinos were able to sing was widely known, people would start protecting the species. Rhinos are poached for the powder in their horns.

Andalas arrived here Monday and was immediately transferred to the 100-hectare Way Kambas rhino sanctuary in Lampung.

"I support Andalas' repatriation to the sanctuary as it provides a genuine breeding population.

"But people need also to understand that this creature is singing the songs of the forest," Von Muggenthaler said.

A spokesman at the Forestry Ministry, Masyhud, said he was unaware of the ability of Sumatran rhinos to sing.

"I haven't heard any rhinos 'singing'. But nevertheless, we will carry out our conservation plans for all rhinos, whether they can sing or not."



Tigers Attack
Watch out for the premiere of Yap film's  latest Hi-Def film ‘Tigers Attack’. Part One airs on Discovery at 9pm GMT Sunday February 4; Part Two at 9pm on Sunday February 11.

It's said a tiger's roar may literally stop people in their tracks, paralysing its prey and giving the predator time to pounce, catch and kill. This is a quest with an Apex Predator at its heart. A scientific investigation that reveals new knowledge, demolishes popular belief and solves a mystery.


Thirteen/WNET New York’s NATURE



Please see or seismic research page for more info on our participation


       It was once a “foolish” notion, largely written off as an old wives’ tale: that animals can sense impending natural disasters. 

       But today, given potent impetus from events preceding last winter’s catastrophic tsunami, it’s attracting serious scientific attention around the world as an idea with the potential to save countless human lives.   

       Thirteen/WNET New York’s NATURE series travels to four continents to examine this provocative and intriguing subject in Can Animals Predict Disaster? – premiering Sunday, November 20 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).  

       “It’s still a controversial idea, but one that’s now recognized as possibly having valid underpinnings in physics and biology,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE.  “You don’t have to believe in paranormal perception to understand the arguments suggesting that some animals can pick up clues that humans can’t perceive. It has become a compelling and tantalizing issue.” 

       During the hours that separated last December’s cataclysmic earthquake off Sumatra and the devastating tsunami that followed, reliable witnesses reported elephants in Thailand trumpeting and wailing wildly, then suddenly scrambling for higher ground; a huge herd of antelope in India stampeding away from the shoreline; hippos in a Malaysian zoo bolting for their shelters and refusing to emerge; and flamingoes interrupting their breeding rituals to flee the Indian coast.

       Elephant trainer Aniwat Jongkit, speaking at his family’s elephant riding center for tourists near Phuket, Thailand, relates on camera how on December 26th he awoke to the

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puzzling sound of two of the camp’s elephants wailing inexplicably.  Later that day, he says, something far more telling was to occur: 

       “About five minutes before the tsunami, the elephants became very agitated…they pulled and broke their chains…and ran up the hill.”  He and another trainer chased after them in vain.  After a while they felt a strong wind and heard behind them “the sound of water and broken trees.”  

       Conservation biologist Ravi Corea, president of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and a member of a special government committee assessing ecological damage from the tsunami at Yala National Park, reports on the “surprisingly little evidence of fatalities among higher vertebrates.” 

       Can Animals Predict Disaster? examines a variety of possible science-based explanations for this and other animal behavior observed in advance of disasters.  These include magnetic field variations, ground tilting, shifts in electrical current intensities, changes in humidity in response to ground water volume, and the ability of many animals to hear “infrasound,” carried on sound waves below the decibel level of human detection.   

       Included in the program, in addition to Mr. Corea, are:

        Quantum geophysicist Motoji Ikeya, professor emeritus at Osaka University, author of Animals and Earthquakes and a leading authority on the subject of animal perception of natural phenomena;

        Dr. Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell of Stanford University, whose pioneering experiments in Africa have revealed how elephants may be communicating through seismic waves;

        Biology professor William Barklow of Framingham (Mass.) College, a leading researcher in Africa in the field of hippopotamus communication, including underwater vocalizations;

        Bio-acoustic researcher Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, president of the Fauna Communication Research Institute and chair of the North Carolina chapter of the

      American Institute of Physics’ Acoustical Society of America.


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       Can Animals Predict Disaster? is a production of Optomen Productions, Inc. and Thirteen/WNET New York.  Producer: Jeff Swimmer.  Executive producer for NATURE: Fred Kaufman. Executive producer for Optomen: Beth Hoppe.

N  NATURE, which begins its 24th season this fall, is produced by Thirteen/WNET New Y  York  for PBS.  William Grant is executive-in-charge.


T  The series has won close to 300 honors from the television industry, parents groups, th  the international wildlife film community, and environmental organizations, including mmany Emmys, the George Foster Peabody Award and the first award given to a tetelevision program by the Sierra Club.

NATURE  is made possible in part by Park Foundation.  Major

corporate support is provided by Canon U.S.A., Inc., and Ford.  Additional ssupport is provided by the nation’s public television stations.


Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as NATURE, Great Performances,

American Masters, Charlie Rose, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Wide Angle, Stage on Screen, Secrets of the Dead, and Cyberchase – as well as the work of Bill Moyers – to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions  such as The Ethnic Heritage Specials, the Thirteen Walking Tours, New York Voices,

and Reel New York.  With educational and community outreach projects that extend the impact of its television productions, Thirteen takes television “out of the box.”  And as broadcast and digital media converge, Thirteen is blazing trails in the creation of Web sites, enhanced television, CD-ROMs, DVD-ROMs, educational software, and other cutting-edge media products.  More information about Thirteen can be found at:


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