Skip to comments.Elephants Respect Old, Big Females
Posted on 01/24/2006 11:54:42 AM PST by billorites
In a female elephant gang, few animals bother the oldest and biggest of the group because they know she will not put up with any nonsense, according to a new study that found age and size determine wild female elephant hierarchies.
The study, published in the current issue of Animal Behavior, presents some of the first data on dominance and the social lives of adult, wild female elephants, Loxodonta africana. Females of this species hang out together in family groups for most of their lives.
Humans may shrink as they get older, but not elephants.
"Female elephants never stop growing, so age and size are almost always linked," said Elizabeth Archie, who led the research.
"Female elephants have two formidable weapons: their tusks and their huge body size. Tusks, horns and teeth are common in many species, but when these weapons are driven by a powerful animal that weighs thousands of pounds, the results can be fatal," she said.
GPS, Diet Reveal Elephant Habits Archie, a Smithsonian Doctoral Fellow in the Genetics Department at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., explained to Discovery News that although female elephants can seriously hurt, or even kill, each other, they hardly ever do so because younger, smaller elephants quickly learn to defer to the group's dominant female.
"A clear dominance hierarchy probably mitigates this risk of injury," she said. "For instance, if two female elephants both want to eat bark from the same tree branch, the subordinate elephant will simply back off because she knows that, if she were to challenge the other elephant, she would lose."
Archie and her colleagues collected behavioral data on free-ranging female elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, and in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, during two separate studies over the course of 12 years.
While elephants would seem to have equal access to resources, which in this case are plentiful and widely distributed, the researchers believe hierarchies evolved because the animals squabble over desirable water holes, mineral resources, rubbing posts and high-quality foods, such as tasty tree bark, palm flowers and balanites seeds, all of which the females love.
Although the observed elephants occasionally would charge, chase, poke and push each other, generally they reserved their greatest aggression toward unrelated intruders. That is when the female group would band together to defend each other.
The most spats overall, however, occurred between mothers and daughters.
"Elephant mothers and daughters stay together in the same group and are often within a few meters of each other," said Archie. "We think this intense physical proximity is the main reason why mother and daughters fight so often. As one of my colleagues says, 'You'd fight too if you still had to live with your mother.'"
The comparison with humans does not end there.
She said that, like humans, "elephants form close social relationships that endure throughout their lives."
These relationships can also extend beyond the family group to include hundreds of other individuals. Many humans associate age with wisdom, as do elephants, which seem to respect that "the elderly appear to be repositories of ecological and social knowledge."
Jeanne Altmann, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, told Discovery News that the findings were "clear and well-supported by the data and are impressive for their consistency between two of the longest-term studies of individually identified elephant populations."
Archie and her team plan to investigate whether or not the close and enduring female relationships allow the females to produce more offspring that have better chances for survival.
Altmann said that such research, along with the current information, "not only sheds light on elephant societies, but on the evolution of female sociality more broadly" in other species, and perhaps even in humans.
That's not entirely true.
Ya beat me by 5 seconds!
We are not a well group, are we?
I never knew my fear of my Mother-in-law was instinctive. Now I know. Doesn't help.
I always know ahead of time when a "Helen" shot is gonna show up!
Every other post is a Helen Thomas pic...LOL...
Nice to know that getting older and bigger can be a good thing...somewhere.
I shoulda been born an elephant.
FReepmail me to be added or removed to the ECO-PING list!
Didn't have to look to know the mug Helen Thomas would be all over this thread :)
Respect for the big and old? Hurray, there's hope for me!
Finally, I can get some respect!
Yep, that about sums it up.
I respect young, big females; is that the same thing?