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The Kid Should See This

Elephant mom wisdom and sparrow songs: Is culture common in the animal world?

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What memories do elephant moms pass down as essential knowledge to younger generations? From the Serengeti plains in Tanzania to the Marin Headlands just north of San Francisco, to around the planet, animals interact with each other in ways we’re only beginning to formally observe.

This 26-minute It’s Okay to Be Smart video, an episode of their In Our Nature special miniseries, explores culture in the animal world.

baby elephant
Learn how Elephant Moms Carry the Wisdom of Generations and how now-urban white-crowned sparrow songs have changed their tunes in the wake of human noise pollution. Host and creator Dr. Joe Hanson explains:

Seemingly distant ecosystems, even half a world apart, are connected in surprising ways. In this special limited series, Emily Graslie and Trace Dominguez join me as we explore the universal rules of life that tie together Earth’s living systems.

In episode 2, we study the complex family relationships of elephants in Africa’s Serengeti plains and how their shared knowledge can help them survive. Then we travel to San Francisco to discover how the intricate songs of birds have changed in the face of our own culture.

How common is culture in the animal kingdom? And what role does it play in the survival of species?

Note for sensitive viewers: There are a few images of drought-stricken dead elephants and lions between 13m06s and 13m17s.

elephants on the Serengeti
observing elephants with Jahawi Bertolli
Travel the Serengeti plains in an observation truck with Hanson and Jahawi Bertolli, a filmmaker, photographer and 2019’s National Geographic Explorer.

Then listen for birds near the Golden Gate Bridge with Dominguez as he learns about these adapting sparrows with researchers Ruth Simberloff, Michael Mahoney, and Jennifer N. Phillips.

researching the birdsong of white-crowned sparrows
white-crowned sparrow
Related reading: When the pandemic quieted San Francisco, these birds could hear each other sing and The Disappearing Language of Sparrows.

And be sure to catch the entire In Our Nature miniseries.

Then watch these related elephant and bird song videos:
• Elephants’ Incredible Intelligence
• How do birds learn to sing?
• British Birdsong, an illustrated montage of sound
• Plantpot Parabolic, a DIY reflector for recording birdsong on a smartphone

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