According to a new study, young male African elephants are calmer when older male elephants are around. This discovery is important for the protection of both the elephants and humans that come in to contact with elephants.
Over 200 elephants studied
Researchers from Exeter University and from the charity Elephants for Africa studied 281 male elephants. All of the elephants were in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. The research took place over a three year period.
When male elephants become adolescents around 12 to 15 years old they leave their herd either spending time alone or with groups of other males. Females on the other hand stay with the herd that they were born in to.
The researchers monitored the behaviour of male elephants within these all male herds. The elephants were divided into four groups; two groups of adolescents (10-16 and 16-20 year olds) and two groups of adults (21-25 and 26 and over). They found that the adolescent male elephants were more likely to be aggressive to strangers (other animals or vehicles) if there were fewer older elephants around them.
The researchers suggested that one reason for the aggression is that the younger males have less experience of what is a threat and what isn’t. They are more likely to be fearful of the unknown and therefore more likely to attack when threatened.
The research is important as it highlights the benefit of older males within elephant groups. Prior to this study, older male elephants were not thought to be useful in social hierarchy. This belief meant that in some areas hunting of older males was permitted, reducing their numbers and likely taking away their calming influence on younger males.
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