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Study: Asian elephant society is egalitarian

In Asia, resources are more plentiful and predictable and there are fewer predators, offering elephants greater freedom to make decisions for themselves.

By Brooks Hays
Study: Asian elephant society is egalitarian
Asian elephant herds are more egalitarian than African elephant herds, new research shows. Photo by Travel landscapes background/Shutterstock

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Oct. 11 (UPI) -- New research reveals Asian elephant societies to be less hierarchical than their African relatives.

In Africa, elephant societies are characterized by matriarchal leadership and a clear pecking order. Many scientists believed Asian elephants organized and interacted in similar ways.

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But when a team scientists lead by biologists from Colorado State University surveyed Asian elephant societies, they observed less than a third as many instances of dominance and deferment behavior -- not enough to establish any clear hierarchical patterns among individuals.

"Female Asian elephants are a bit more like lionesses than like African savanna elephants," Shermin de Silva, director of the Uda Walawe Elephant Research Project, explained in a news release.

Researchers looked for evidence of hierarchies based on gender as well as age. Again, they found no definite patterns. While older elephants tended to come out on top in physical altercations, young elephants dominated other types of social interactions.

Scientists believe the ecology of the two species' varied habitats account for the difference in social organization. Conditions in Africa, where rainfall is sporadic and large predators lurk everywhere, are harsher. The wisdom of an older elephant is more valuable. The early established bonds between mother and children may explain why female elephants call the shots.

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In Asia, resources are more plentiful and predictable and there are fewer predators, offering elephants greater freedom to make decisions for themselves.

Researchers published their analysis of Asian elephant societies in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

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