The Incredible World of Zoo Musicology

Elephants listening to Beethoven? It sounds absurd, but the link between animals and music is growing. Welcome to zoo musicology.

Through zoo musicology, many animals’ species use sounds to communicate and warn of danger through stimuli, but animals have been known to embrace different music genres before others.

Zoo musicology is a field between Zoology and Musicology as it studies the music of nonhuman animals. The field researches how animals respond to sounds and the varying effects or reactions music has on them. For example, whales are notorious for emitting sounds with different frequencies by being able to communicate underwater. 

Another example would be research surrounding species of birds producing songs and sounds as a strong form of communication.  But, what genre of human music do animals prefer to listen to? Is it the sounds of symphonies and orchestral melodies of classical music, or the booming bass of electronic music? 

Could it be the sounds of Taylor Swift through pop music or the sweet sounds of Jazz and Neo-soul? The answer may surprise you! 

In 1909, a dynamic study published by the New York Times entitled: `The effects of music on animals Zoo’ investigated the efforts of music in all species at the Bronx Zoo, New York City. As the study focused on various reptiles, birds, primates, elephants, and Lions, results concluded that orangutans responded to the music of opera singer, Enrico Caruso along with moving their bodies to particular beats and rhythms of swing music. 

Other animals such as camels, indicated a sense of pleasure as they would stretch their neck while approaching the sound source with curiosity. However, canines such as coyotes and wolves showed negative reactions. These animals presented to be frightened and uneasy.


Elephants Love Beethoven

Many researchers believe in the powerful notion of world music. In this sense, world music formulated the idea that music can function almost innately as a natural sense for animals and that music is a universal language regardless of the living entity. 

As whales and birds emit sounds and can recognise different rhythms, the idea that these animals can comprehend the musical structure used by humans when composing music isn’t such a crazy idea. In 2009, a cellist of the National Symphony Orchestra in partnership with a University of Wisconsin psychologist conducted an experiment that concluded that other species can react emotionally to musical sounds. 

Within the experiment, the analysis focused on Marmosets, a species of monkey found in the jungles of Central America. After the studying of these monkeys of their communication sounds and reactions, several musical pieces were created. One song was made from similar sounds of the Marmosets’ emitting alerts of danger. 

The monkeys began to shake their heads rapidly as they stuck their tongues out and rapidly looked around frantically. This notion could serve to emotionally understand the value of music and its correlation with animals. This experiment also serves as a tool to aid in understanding animal behaviour. 

Animal researchers and behaviour experts believe that the sounds of classical music can make life more comfortable for animals living in Zoos. Researchers have discovered that the sounds of classical music reduce abnormal behaviours such as swaying and pacing. This has shown positive outcomes to the elephants of the Belfast Zoo in Northern Ireland. A team formulated from Queen’s University, conducted an experiment surrounding four female Asian elephants. 

The team recorded their behaviour every minute for four hours a day over three weeks. During the first five days of the experiment, no music was given to the elephants. In the second five-day increment, researchers placed a speaker within the enclosure playing songs from classical musical artists such as Mozart, Handel, and Beethoven. In the final five days, the music was turned off. 

The team reported that the frequency of abnormal behaviours dropped substantially while the music was playing, whereas normal behaviours such as feeding remained constant. 


Animal and Their DJs

Other zoos such as Whipsnade Zoo in England, also play the classical sounds within the enclosures of sick and new arrival animals. Similar to the elephants in Belgrade, the Whipsnade Zoo also showed positive results to the calming background music. But, what musical genre should zoo environments heavily avoid? 

A further study was developed to find out genres that produced higher levels of anxiety to the elephants, along with other zoo animals such as gorillas and wolves. Tested with various musical genres, the investigation concluded that heavy metal has a quite adverse effect on the animals. 

Overall, musical sounds have been proven to show benefits to many creatures, as music is a good source of positivity and communication between varying species of living organisms. 

Although animals react to human-produced music, it’s important to understand that animals have their form of music and communication that expands our knowledge and understanding of animal languages. 

This notion is proven through the value of world music, as all living things have an emotional connection and reactions to sounds and frequencies.

From zoo musicology to something else spiritual:

The Marriage of Music and Spirituality

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