Granny Knows Best

Older females play a critical role in African elephant society

08-01-2001 // Mark Cheater

Pachyderms benefit by keeping their elders around, according to recent research in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. Scientists found that elephant families led by older females are more skilled in identifying calls from potentially threatening pachyderms. By quickly picking out enemies, these matriarchs help protect young calves from danger and contribute to the long-term breeding success of their clans. "We believe this to be the first statistical link between social knowledge and reproductive success in any species," says Karen McComb of the University of Sussex in Britain, who led the study. Since these wise matriarchs are often targeted by poachers because of their long tusks, "the results highlight the disproportionate effect that hunting and poaching of mature animals might have for elephant populations," adds McComb.

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