Older female elephants are wiser matriarchs
BBC: Elephants pay close attention to their elders, especially
when they hear the sound of an approaching predator, scientists have
A research team monitored African elephants' reactions when they
heard the sound of lions roaring. Groups of animals with older female
leaders, or matriarchs, very quickly organised themselves into a
defensive "bunch" when they heard a male lion. The findings are reported
in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.
The researchers already knew that older female elephants played very
important roles in their social groups. But in this study, led by Karen
McComb and Graeme Shannon from the University of Sussex, UK, scientists
managed to put this to the test in a natural setting.
The researchers first recorded lion roars, and separated their
recordings into roars from male lions and those from female lions. They
then used loudspeakers to play these sounds to 39 groups of female
elephants in Amboseli National Park in Kenya.
The groups with the oldest female leaders, or matriarchs, responded
very quickly - and very appropriately - to the roars of male lions. The
animals stopped to listen attentively, then bunched together to defend
"Male lions present a very real threat [for elephants]," said Dr.
McComb. "They can be successful in bringing down a calf even when
Female lions, however, are unlikely to attack an elephant unless they
are in large groups, and the researchers found that older female
elephants were able to distinguish the sound of a male lion from a
The older females' groups were much more likely to form this
defensive bunch and even to aggressively approach the loudspeaker when
they were played the roars of male lions.