Contagious Yawning in African Elephants (Loxodonta africana): Responses to Other Elephants and Familiar Humans

Zoë T. Rossman, Clare Padfield, Debbie Young, Benjamin L. Hart, Lynette A. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


While spontaneous yawning is common across all vertebrate classes, contagious yawning is less common and has been observed only in a few species of social animals. Interspecific contagious yawning in response to yawning by humans has been observed only by chimpanzees and dogs. After confirming additional occurrences of intraspecific contagious yawning in a group of captive African elephants previously studied, we further investigated the potential for the same group of elephants to engage in interspecific contagious yawning with familiar human handlers. Ten captive African elephants, most of whom had been previously studied, were observed over 13 nights for evidence of intraspecific contagious yawning. Seven of these elephants were also involved in trials where familiar handlers performed staged yawns, as well as trials with staged non-yawning gapes, or trials with no yawns or gapes. Incorporating previously collected contagious yawning data, we describe nine instances of intraspecific contagious yawning in the elephants. Three of the seven elephants yawned contagiously in response to humans during the interspecific yawning trials. This is the first report of interspecific contagious yawning by elephants in response to yawns by familiar humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number252
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
StatePublished - May 8 2020


  • African elephants
  • contagious yawning
  • interspecific
  • intraspecific
  • Loxodonta africana
  • yawning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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