Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Scientists Find Elephant Memories May Hold Key to Survival

A recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) suggests that old female elephants—and perhaps their memories of distant, life-sustaining sources of food and water—may be the key to survival during the worst of times.

In particular, experienced elephant matriarchs seem to give their family groups an edge in the struggle for survival in periods of famine and drought, according to a recently published paper in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters.

“Understanding how elephants and other animal populations react to droughts will be a central component of wildlife management and conservation,” said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Charles Foley, lead author of the study. “Our findings seem to support the hypothesis that older females with knowledge of distant resources become crucial to the survival of herds during periods of extreme climatic events.”

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, ZSL researcher and co-author, added, “Climate change is expected to lead to a higher occurrence of severe drought in Africa and our study suggests that such extreme climatic events may act as a selection force on animal populations. As animals battle to cope certain individuals, such as these grand dames of the elephant kingdom, might become increasingly important.”

Specifically, the study examines patterns of calf mortality during the drought of 1993 in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park, the most severe drought in that region in the past 35 years. During a nine-month period of that year, sixteen out of 81 elephant calves in the three groups studied died, a mortality rate of 20 percent. The normal mortality rate of calves during non-drought years is a mere two percent.

When compared with other data, researchers noted correlations in calf survivorship with the movements of the groups and, in particular, the ages of the female members within those groups. First, of the three elephant groups observed during the event, the two groups that left the park suffered lower mortality rates than the group that remained in the northern portion of the protected area. The researchers speculated that these elephants succeeded in finding sufficient food and water outside the protected area to keep themselves and their young alive. The group that stayed suffered 63 percent of the mortality for the year.

Second, an examination of the ages of the individual elephants in the three herds was even more suggestive. The data indicated that the age of the mother elephants was an important predictor for calf survival. The two groups that left the park, presumably in search of food and water, had matriarchs that were ages 45 and 38 years of age respectively, whereas the group that remained had a matriarch that was only 33 years of age, the result of heavy poaching during the 1970’s and 1980’s that targeted older females with large tusks.

Third, the researchers pointed out that the groups that left the park may have benefited from the specific experiences of their oldest matriarchs, which perhaps were able to draw upon memories of an earlier drought and how they survived it. The case is strengthened by the known life history of the oldest matriarchs in these groups, some of which were five years or older during the drought of 1958-61. The group that remained in Tarangire in 1993 had no individuals old enough to remember the event.

“It’s enticing to think that these old females and their memories of previous periods of trauma and survival would have meant all the difference,” added Foley. “The data seem to support the speculation that the matriarchs with the necessary experience of such events were able to lead their groups to drought refugia.”

During the 1970s and ‘80s, many of Eastern Africa’s largest elephants fell victim to waves of poachers who were eager to exploit the profitability of the black market for ivory.

“Hopefully, this study underlines the importance of how crucial older matriarchs are to the health of elephant populations,” added Foley. “Protecting the leaders of elephant herds will be even more important in what may be an increase in droughts due to climate change.”

Stephen Sautner | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Enormous dome in central Andes driven by huge magma body beneath it

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Deep down fracking wells, microbial communities thrive

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>