Family is everything to an elephant

March 11, 2018: Mother's Day in the UK

Elephants are well-known for their complex, multi-layered social networks led by an older female. Known as the matriarch, these wise female elephants carry with them a lifetime of inherited wisdom that helps the whole herd survive; where to find water, where to find food, when to avoid danger.

While studies of African elephants show the clear dominance of the matriarch in a herd, for Asian elephants the hierarchy appears to be a little more relaxed. Scientists suggest that this may be because Asian elephants live in more ecologically robust environments, where food and water is generally available and predators are few. Yet the importance of inherited wisdom remains critical for herd survival.

In elephant families:

  • Females are in charge: most herds are made up of a matriarch, her sisters, daughters and calves. Family units range in size from 3 to 25 but they sometimes come together in much larger gatherings around watering holes and food sources.
  • There are babysitters: the females help look after each other’s calves. It helps young females learn how to look after the young. The chances of survival greatly increase for a calf when females are around and willing to take care of it.
  • There is a strong bond: elephants develop strong bonds between friends and family members. They mourn the death of loved ones and have been known to return to areas where family members have died.
  • Calves are protected: when the herd is on the move the calves will sometimes hold their mother’s tails with their trunks, while other females surround them to protect them from danger.
  • Males tend to be nomadic: adult male elephants live a largely solitary life. When they reach puberty (12-15 years old) the males become more independent and often join more loosely knit ‘bachelor’ herds. They will mate with a female but leave the mother and her herd to raise the calf.
  • Sometimes the family separates: this can be influenced by availability of food and water, how well the herd gets on, or the death of a matriarch. This means that different herds living over vast terrain can be related and are known to keep in touch through rumbling calls.

   
On mother’s day please help support these wise mothers who, in an increasingly crowded landscape, struggle each day to protect their families. You can donate by clicking here