Asian elephants’ social networks research

This video is called The Asian Elephant – Two Species.

From Wildlife Extra:

Asian elephants have intricate social networks

Social networking elephants never forget

December 2012. Asian elephants typically live in small, flexible, social groups centred around females and calves while adult males roam independently. However, new research shows that while Asian elephants in Sri Lanka may change their day to day associations they maintain a larger, stable, network of friends from which they pick their companions.

Social networking

Researchers followed the friendships among over a hundred female adult Asian elephants in the Uda Walawe National Park in Sri Lanka for five seasons and analysed how these relationships changed over time. While the elephants tended to congregate in groups containing three adult females, there could be as many as 17 in a single group. Social strategies were also variable, with some elephants always being seen in each other’s company while others were ‘social butterflies’ who frequently changed companions. Surprisingly, 16% completely changed their ‘top five’ friends over the course of the study. Elephants who had few companions were very faithful to them, whereas those who had many tended to be less loyal.

Analysis of elephant ‘ego-networks’ showed that Asian elephants tended to also associate with larger sets of companions, especially in dry seasons. Social bonds were especially strong when resources were scarce, even to the extent of expelling unfamiliar elephants from sources of water. This may be due in part to the ecology of their environment, because other elephants, which live in drier areas, congregate in greater numbers in wet seasons. It was previously thought that, unlike African savannah elephants, Asian elephants had no extensive social affiliations, but at the population level, extensive clusters of interconnected groups were discovered.

Trunk calls

Dr Shermin de Silva from the University of Pennsylvania explained that, “Elephants are able to track one another over large distances by calling to each other and using their sense of smell. So the ‘herd’ of elephants one sees at any given time is often only a fragment of a much larger social group. Our work shows that they are able recognize their friends and renew these bonds even after being apart for a long time.”

The research was published in published in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Ecology.

December 2013: The Malaysian National Elephant Conservation Action plan has been officially launched by the Malaysian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment and the Director-General of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Dato Rasid Samsuddin, with the Director of Wildlife Conservation Society-Malaysia Program, Dr. Melvin Gumal: here.

Scientists discovered that Asian elephants born during times when their mothers experience highest stress levels produce significantly fewer offspring in their lifetime despite having higher rates of reproduction at an early age: here.

Elephants being poached in Burma: here.

Asian elephant populations in Laos, which are under a process of commodification, have dropped by half in the last 30 years. According to researchers, the dynamics of elephant populations depend heavily on the socioeconomic practices of the country and elephant owners. The setting-up of a ‘maternity leave’ system to compensate owners for their losses of income during breeding period would contribute to the species’ long-term survival: here.

Traditional elephant handling worldwide is rapidly changing. Researchers discovered that mahouts in Myanmar are only 22 years old on average, with an average experience of three years working with elephants, and they are changing elephants yearly preventing the development of long-term bonds between elephants and mahouts. These shifts contrast the traditional elephant-keeping system of skills being accumulated over a lifetime of working with the same elephant before being taught to the younger generation: here.

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