Male Elephants – Leaders Not Loners?

Posted on September 22nd 2020

Killing For Ivory Could Drive African Elephant Into Extinction

Recent study has found that male African elephants have more of a social role in ‘elephant society’ than previously thought.

Females in charge

Past thinking had been that older male African elephants led relatively solitary lives. It was assumed that once adult male elephants contribute to breeding they have no further role within a group and move on. Elephant groups largely have females in charge, and research often focusses on the females contributions to the groups. Older females stay with a herd for life and play key roles in decision making for that group.

What about the males?

Young male elephants will usually stay with a group until they are teenagers. They will then join separate bull herds, and later join a female dominated herd again but only briefly to mate.

Male elephants can live up to 70 years old. As they get older, and once they have mated, the belief was that they become increasingly solitary. However, compared to females who stay with a herd, males can roam great distances and are therefore harder to monitor, so until now little was known about their social contribution.

New research

A recent study by the University of Exeter set up cameras along seven paths within Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana. The paths were all regularly used by elephants. The cameras automatically recorded the elephants as they passed. They amassed 1000’s of hours of footage.

Over a 1000 males were identified and their ages were worked out from their features and body size. The footage showed young males almost always travel with other males and older males were found to lead at the front of the group. It is thought that the older elephants pass on knowledge to the younger ones as they travel which is the first time older bull elephants have been seen in a leadership role.

African elephants are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. If you would like to find out more please visit our Adopt an Elephant page.

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