Spirit of Ma'at: "Music of the Spheres" — Vol 3, No 3

Purrrfect Sounds that Heal

with Elizabeth von Muggenthaler

by Paula Peterson


"Can you speak rhinoceros?" "Of courseros, can't you?"
—Dr. Doolittle

Elizabeth von Muggenthaler is president of Fauna Communication Research Institute, where amazing breakthroughs are being made that may forever change the way we listen to the animals.

As a research scientist and bio-acoustic specialist, Elizabeth has gone where no man (or woman) has gone before — into the mysterious realm of the healing power of a cat's purring, the haunting whale-song of the Sumatran rhino, and sounds that we feel but never hear.

Paula: You are truly a pioneer in your field. I understand that very few people are aware of your research and the fascinating discoveries it's produced. How did you first become interested in animals and the sounds they make?

Elizabeth: I was an only child, but I grew up around animals. My mother was a botanist and animal advocate, and my father, the assistant editor for Newsweek magazine, loved animals as well. He'd had a pet skunk when he was growing up, and we once raised a litter of baby raccoons he'd found whose mother had been killed. We also had many horses, dogs, and cats.

We traveled often to Europe and Mexico, and I had a good classic education, so I was exposed to a lot and my mind was very open. When I went on to college, I majored in animal behavior, and one thing led to another.

Paula: There are recordings of the sounds of several animals on your website that are quite interesting. What I found most remarkable were the sounds made by the Sumatran rhinoceros: they sound nearly identical to the songs of the humpback whale.

Elizabeth: Yes, those are the recordings that are near and dear to my heart. The Sumatran rhinoceros is the oldest living rhino. They're called the wooly rhinoceros, and there are only about 200 of them left in the world. Poaching and habitat encroachment have devastated them. They stand about four feet tall — no higher than your shoulder — so they're small and furry, and they sing like whales.

Paula: How did you discover this rhino's unique parallel to whales?

Elizabeth: When I studied the analysis of the sound recordings, I realized that I had seen this type of signal before. So I called Jim Darling, who is one of the foremost authorities on humpback whales and has done a lot of research on their song. He sent me a tape of the sounds of the humpback whale, and I was amazed at the similarities. Under analysis, allowing for the fact that one animal is underwater, the signal analysis of the sounds is very close.

I actually call their continuous sounds "whale song," and within those sounds are little "eeps" and other noises, like whistle blows. But the majority of sounds are really very much like whale songs.

Paula: Why do you think this particular species of rhinoceros sings like a whale?

Elizabeth: I spoke with various paleontologists about that. Some said they didn't know, stating that the whale and the rhinoceros are not considered to be related. However, I did find other paleontologists who held the theory that rhinos and whales are related, and that my research analysis on their song adds support to this theory.

Besides, there is something called an ancestral song. It's never been formulated into a scientific fact, but among certain mammals the elements of a basic song are found. Some of it or all of it sounds very much like whale song. The sounds of the Sumatran rhino may be linked to this ancestral song.

Paula: Do you have any thoughts as to what their songs mean?

Elizabeth: No, but these rhinos are supposedly solitary in the wild, rarely seen together, and it's really curious to me that such a solitary creature has developed such an extensive repertoire. They like to lie in their mud wallows and sing.

Part of their song is very low frequency. They also have a whistle blow that will travel for miles through the forest. In my mind it seems to be some sort of meditation. When I watch them, they will stand there singing in their little mud wallow and being really peaceful.

I can't help but feel that while they're doing this they are somehow singing with the forest, connecting with the Earth. I get emotional about them. They are so beautiful. And as I said, there are only around 200 left in the world, and not much is being done about that.

Paula: It's heart-breaking that these wonderful creatures may eventually be lost to us. I noticed my reaction to hearing the rhino's song on your website. I was taken aback. I had never heard such a thing.

Elizabeth: It's unbelievable. I've seen grown men get tears in their eyes when they hear the rhino's song. It can open up your heart. I would love to make a meditative CD with all the different sounds, because something like that could blow you wide open. Hearing that, you would have nothing left to hide.

Paula: I also heard a popping sound when I was listening to the rhino's song — almost like the sound a whale makes when it forces air through its blowhole while breathing.

Elizabeth: That's the whistle blow. It's a sound that carries for miles, and is very low in frequency.

Paula: Where is their natural habitat? Are they protected?

Elizabeth: They are found only on the Island of Sumatra. There are only eight in captivity. Three or four are in the United States now.

The first Sumatran rhinoceros born in captivity in the last 100 years was at the Cincinnati Zoo. They do not do well in captivity.

They are protected, however poaching laws are not being enforced because there is no money to fund that. And since he average person has never even heard that they exist, much less heard them sing, there is no public awareness of what's happening to them.

Paula: I saw graphs and electronic displays of the sounds on your website. What kind of equipment do you use to get these graphics?

Elizabeth: It's called signal analysis. We designed a unique system called "Polynesia." We wanted to give the bio-acoustic world — and people in general — an affordable tools to go out and record analogs in the field on animals — run analysis and do playback on the spot.

The problem in the past was that speakers had to be gigantic for low frequencies. Speakers used for the research on elephants, for example, cost thousands of dollars. Also, although the specifications weren't all that great, they weighed a couple hundred pounds. That's impractical.

So our analysis system is unique. National Instruments made the basic platform for the program, and we just added a "virtual instrument program." In other words, you can measure anything. It's an amazing system.

Paula: You also study sounds that are below the normal range of human hearing — called infrasound. This is so interesting, and I don't think most people know about infrasound. Can you talk more about this?

Elizabeth: An example of infrasound can be seen when you're in your car stopped at a traffic light, and you look over and see that the car next to you is shaking because the music is so loud. It's the infrasound that's making the car shake. It's below our normal range of hearing.

Another example of how infrasound affects people is in car sickness. The reason some one gets car sick is not always that the car is moving. Car sickness is sometimes caused by the car's vibration — around 4 Herz.

In fact, cars are interesting; you get all kinds of low-frequency vibrations from them — 4 Herz, 7 Herz — that kind of thing. Frequencies of 7 Herz can cause osteoporosis.

Low frequencies like 18 Herz can cause dizziness, blackouts, and feelings of terror. There is a theory that some ghost hauntings are actually caused by low-frequency vibrations of around 18 Herz in a building. That's a fairly common frequency in structures.

Tigers roar at around 18 Herz. It doesn't matter that you can't see the tiger. Just hearing the sound is pretty terrifying.

Paula: I've read the theory that the roar of a tiger may actually paralyze its victim.

Elizabeth: That hasn't been proven. Nevertheless, we recorded the exact frequency of the tiger's range and found that its highest frequency is right around 18 Herz. So theoretically the tiger's roar could cause temporary paralysis, weakening of the muscles, feelings of terror, coldness, blackouts, and headaches — that kind of thing.

Paula: Is that similar to the Orca whale's ability to stun its victims?

Elizabeth: It could be, except I believe the Orcas are using high-frequency sounds: ultrasound, not infrasound.

Paula: How is it that infrasound can penetrate solid objects like walls and even go through mountains?

Elizabeth: To begin with, ultrasound is a short wave. Take a pen and draw waves up and down, up and down, and make them close together. That's ultrasound. This shape and wavelength causes the sounds to bounce off objects. That's why we use this sound frequency for sonar, and why bats and dolphins use it for eco-location.

When you look at the sonic range — the range of human hearing — you see a medium-sized wave that doesn't necessarily bounce off objects. There is refraction, but you don't know where it's going.

Low frequency or infrasound is a very long wave. Take your pen and draw a nearly straight line. That's how an infrasound signal looks.

Paula: So the wave of infrasound actually goes between particles and molecules of an object rather than bouncing off them?

Elizabeth: Yes. Because it's a long wave, it can travel through objects. It goes through buildings, through mountains, through whatever.

An interesting thing happens when the space shuttle takes off. It creates infrasound that travels the earth about seven times before it dissipates. In fact, if you go about 30 miles south of Coco Beach there's a little place called Satellite Beach where there is a hotel built mostly of glass. If you are in one of those rooms when the space shuttle is taking off, you will see the panes of glass bow inward about two-and-a-half inches!

Paula: That's amazing. Do most animals create infrasound?

Elizabeth: Not that we know of. It's still a much under-studied field because it can be very difficult to do.

But lots of other things create infrasound: wind, building movement, trains going by, planes flying overhead, vehicles on the interstate. To create proper recordings, though, the circumstances have to be perfect.

Paula: Why isn't there more study in this area? It seems so interesting.

Elizabeth: People have the tendency to believe that if you can't hear it and see it then no one else can, either. There is a lot of skepticism to this day in the bio-acoustic field. But I think scientists are becoming a little bit more open minded than they used to be.

Paula: What is the normal range of hearing for humans?

Elizabeth: Technically, between 20 and 20,000 Herz. Infrasound is below 20 Herz. It's been documented that one 19-year-old girl could hear at 19 Herz, but the average person — who has been exposed to car noises, loud noises, and maybe a rock concert or two — is probably hard pressed to hear below 30 or 40 Herz.

Paula: Do you think that human's might be capable of making infrasound?

Elizabeth: We don't know. We have noticed in some of our studies — and this is something I would like to pursue further — that people who practice certain forms of yoga or martial arts use sound to strengthen their muscles. Our chest cavities are perfectly capable of humming at around 25 Herz; they could vibrate at that frequency. Our voice isn't going to make infrasound, but our chest, diaphragm, and lungs might.

I've never recorded a human creating infrasound, but it would be a very good thing if they could, because the fundamental frequency of 25 Herz, together with its harmonics, is literally therapeutic. If we could prove that humans can create that frequency, yoga practitioners who use the Om sound might be able to claim scientifically that they were doing healing.

Paula: You have also caused quite a stir with your research on the cat's purr. In the past, I noticed that having my cats near me was very healing, but I didn't know that purring might actually be their way of healing themselves.

Elizabeth: That's the research where I've received a great deal of support from many sources, including veterinarians. Thankfully, I've also received support from a professor emeritus in England who is known as the "grandfather of bones." He is the foremost authority on bone density. I won't give his name since I don't have his permission, but he writes that optimal frequency for bone stimulation is 50 Herz. The dominant and fundamental frequency for three species of cats' purrs is exactly 25 to 50 Herz: the best frequencies for bone growth and fracture healing.

The cat's purr falls well within the 20 — 50 Herz anabolic range, and extends up to 140 Herz. All members of the cat family except cheetahs have a dominant or strong harmonic at 50 Herz. The harmonics of three cat species fall exactly on or within 2 points of 120 Herz, a frequency which has been found to repair tendons.

A few veterinarians have said that the purr is only a vocalization of contentment, and most people believe that. But my analysis shows it's not true. Cats will purr when they are injured and in pain as well as when they are content. In one case, a cat had broken its femur and the femur was sticking out. But it was purring, so we can assume that purring is not always a sign of contentment.

A funny thing is that some people claim that cats purr when they're injured because they're humming to make themselves feel better. Well, that makes absolutely no sense. When I've just broken my leg and I'm in the emergency room, I'm not whistling.

Purring takes a lot of energy. It's created by both the diaphragm and the larynx. Getting a diaphragm to move for something other than breathing is difficult, it takes energy. When there is pain and suffering, our bodies are traumatized and they shut down non-essential activity. Since cats purr when they are severely injured and dying, it has to be survival-related.

Paula: I've seen the statement made by veterinarians that if you put a cat in a room with a bunch of broken bones, the bones will heal.

Elizabeth: Yes. That is an old veterinarian's adage and it's still taught in veterinary schools to this day. That's the first thing I came across when I started out with this research. But no one has done any studies on it.

Paula: What other conditions can benefit from the type of frequencies that are found in the cat's purr?

Elizabeth: They are good for healing muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries, as well as for muscle strengthening and toning. They are good for any type of joint injury, wound healing, reduction of infection and swelling, pain relief, and relief of chronic pulmonary disease.

I've corresponded with the authors of the veterinarians' surgery manual, and what it basically comes down to is that, compared to other animals, cats simply don't get chronic pulmonary disease, muscle and tendon injuries, bone diseases, and a lot of other things that dogs get. The purr seems to be a constant strengthener and toner for the muscles.

Interestingly enough, as far as several experts are concerned, the bone density of domestic cats has never been measured. Therefore, we don't whether the bones are heavily remodeled — which means growth on growth — or not.

The average health of cats is considered to be greater than that of dogs. An actual case study was done where they took 52,000 animals and found that lameness in dogs occurred 3.6 percent and in cats only .26 percent. In another study, arthritis in dogs was listed as 2.4 percent of the population, and was not reported at all in cats. The prevalence of lameness in dogs occurred 3.1 percent of the time, and again, in cats it was not even mentioned. The overall incidence of primary lung tumors in the dog is 1.24 percent, and in the cat, .38 percent. This basically says that cats are in fact healthier than dogs are.

People like to say, "Oh, that's just coincidence," but it can't be. The odds of its being coincidence are like three billion to one.

Any veterinary orthopedic surgeon will tell you how relatively easy it is to mend broken cat bones compared with dog bones. Dog bones take much more effort to fix and longer to heal.

There is excellent documentation of cats' quick recovery from such things as high-rise syndrome, which was first mentioned by Dr. Gordon Robinson and later studied and reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. They documented 132 cases of cats' plummeting an average of 5.5 stories from high-rise apartments, with some of them suffering severe injuries. But interestingly, 90 percent of these cats survived. Most cats that fell from seven stories or more managed to live. The record for survival from heights is 45 stories!

Paula: Have you been able to register the difference between a cat's purr of contentment and the purr of a cat that's been injured?

Elizabeth: There is no difference. It's machine-like. The purr is nearly the same across species: The ocelot, chervil, and domestic cat are all create an identical sound.

I showed this data to an architectural engineer who measures building vibration, and he asked if I were into mechanics, since the signal appeared to be so regular. He was greatly surprised when I told him he was looking at the analysis of a cat's purr. It's totally unlike any other animal's vocalization.

Paula: How did you first come to discover this?

Elizabeth: I had been working with tigers at a facility where there were also many other wild cats. It seemed odd to me, while passing by a chervil one day, that it was purring.

Later on, I read in National Geographic about this researcher who had put chickens on a vibrating plank for twenty minutes a day and their bones grew. And I thought, Well, that's weird. So I called him and asked what the anabolic frequencies for bones were. He said that they were anywhere between 20 and 90 Herz, but that there is evidence suggesting that 25 Herz and 50 Herz are the best frequencies.

I slept on it, and the next day, I got up, went into the living room, grabbed my big tomcat, Spot, started petting him, and put the microphone there. Then I ran the recording through the computer. And guess what? Oh, my God.

After that, I started doing a search in the literature, and found that 25 Herz is the fundamental frequency. In other words, it's the first, or primal, frequency. After the first frequency, there is something called harmonics. Harmonics are always a multiple of the fundamental, meaning that if the fundamental is 25 Herz, the first harmonic is 50, then the second harmonic is 75, the third harmonic is 100, and so forth.

I started recording the wild cats. Then I grabbed every domestic cat from my friends and other people. "Excuse me. Can I record your cat?"

Then we took accelerometers and started measuring cats — accelerometers measure vibrations — to find out where on the body the sound is the strongest and weakest. We discovered that the vibrational signal is at its weakest at the extremities. Interestingly, it's rare for cats to get bone cancer, but when they do, it's most often in the distal end of the extremities — the paw — and that's also where the vibrational signal is the weakest.

At the time, I remember wondering, What are the odds that in six out of seven species of cat, their purrs are identical in frequency and amplitude? All of these cats come from a geological evolution that is different — South America, Africa, Asia. Yet the sounds they make match exactly, in both amplitude and frequency, to the frequencies that have been found to be healing, and not just for healing of bones.

Paula: I've had healing experiences with my own cats. I had one cat that slept with me every night, and it always felt so good and peaceful to have her next to me. And of course, she purred loud and long until we both fell asleep. So, for health benefits, do you think it's helpful for people to hold their purring cat close to their bodies?

Elizabeth: From a scientific standpoint? I would have to say I don't know. For something to be scientifically therapeutic, it has to be exactly the right strength, loudness, and amplitude. But speaking as a healer, I would say yes, absolutely.

I've had a lot of requests for purr CDs. You may have noticed that when you're not feeling well, cats will often come up to the part of your body that's aching and start to knead you with their paws, purring and getting that meditative look in their eyes. I have no doubt in my mind that they're trying to help.

But is the cat on your chest able to ease your asthma? Scientifically, I don't know. It will depend on observation.

Paula: Some of the animals that you work with, like the Sumatran rhino, are endangered species. What can we do to help make a difference?

Elizabeth: Well, a saying I coined ten years ago is, "People tend to equate language with intelligence." I feel that people would be more willing to give of themselves to these amazing creatures if they considered them intelligent.

The other thing is, we have a lot to learn from them. Most of our modern medicines come from plants or animals. Killing them off is killing us. The average person does not realize that every time an animal becomes extinct we lose another opportunity not only to learn more about our world but also to gain something possibly therapeutic from this animal. It's unfortunate that many people are so consumed with purchasing expensive possessions that they don't stop to appreciate what we already have that has been given to us.

Paula: As an avid animal lover, I know full well that animals are intelligent beings even if they don't speak an understandable language — although my own cats have tried to talk like humans.

Elizabeth: I have a recording of a cat in a veterinarian's office who kept saying its owner's name. Animals have so much more than we have. We as humans are limited by what we're able to see, hear, and smell. Our senses are nowhere near as keen as those of dogs and cats. I watch my cats frequently, and I will see them at times looking at something I cannot even sense, much less see. But they will both be staring at it. Most humans presume that their cats are just staring into space, but they are tracking something.

We as humans can't even begin to understand what a dog smells. Their noses are many times more efficient than ours.

A scallop has a hundred eyes, so it really does see us as we're ripping it from its home. Birds see in the ultraviolet spectrum. We can't see that. We're so limited. It would be nice to spend a day inhabiting the body of several different creatures, just to experience what they're able to see and hear that we can't.

Paula: So true. In closing, is there anything more you would like us to know?

Elizabeth: We're nonprofit, literally. My hope is for our institute to be funded by a holistic organization in order to study the effects of Om, and to test whether bagua and some of the ancient forms of yoga and martial arts are actually healing us. If we had this data, I think more people would take yoga — for it is an amazing thing.

There are some hidden benefits to our producing sounds. The Gregorian chants and others are obviously spiritually connected, but they also may be doing us physical good.

Paula: This has been delightful speaking with you today. We wish you well on your efforts to educate the public on the amazing sounds of animals and the plight of the Sumatran rhino.


To find out more about Elizabeth von Muggenthaler's important research, animal sound recordings, CDs, or how you can help protect the Sumatran rhino from extinction, please visit the Fauna Communication Research Institute website at AnimalVoice.com (to hear the sounds of the Sumatran rhino, click on Research or News).

You can email Elizabeth at l@animalvoice.com, or phone her at 919-732-1322.




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