Research has clearly indicated that senior males in a group of males serve a useful purpose in keeping the younger members of the group in order. When an old bull elephant is present, they are more likely to behave less aggressively towards vehicles, livestock and other wild animals.
When a mob of teenage male elephants threaten to become rowdy a wise older head on the shoulders of a senior elephant is useful and it directs the senior elephant to intervene.
In this respect, elephants quite clearly mimic the behaviour of humans. British scientists studying elephants on the African Savannah say that old bull tuskers steer younger males away from delinquency and onto the straight and narrow.
It was found that people living near elephants are more likely to face less danger and nuisance as a consequence.
“Old male bull elephants are often thought of as redundant and are targeted for trophy hunting. These new results highlight the important role that old male elephants can play in shaping the behaviour of younger males, which are more aggressive – including towards vehicles”.
That’s an important point. Sport and trophy hunters do target the senior large-tusked male elephants. It is now shown that this has a detrimental effect upon the group and humans.
The scientists tracked 281 male elephants for a period of three years in the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana. Most of the time they were in all-male groups. The study took place in an area where they had been the highest reported conflict between humans and wildlife in Botswana.
70% of people in that area said that elephants had threatened their safety.
They divided the elephants into four age groups: adolescents aged 10-15 years old, 16-20 years old, adults 21-25 years old and those aged 26 and over, considered to be fully mature.
As mentioned above when the old bulls were present the younger males were more likely to behave in a more socially acceptable way vis-à-vis the people living in the area!
The study was led by Connie Allen of Exeter’s Centre for Research and Animal Behaviour who said:
“It appears the presence of more knowledgeable, older elephants may play a key role in keeping the younger, less experienced males calm, which means less risk of aggression. Our research draws attention to what is often a rather overlooked area in animal behaviour – that of the complex relationships and connections between males in non-breeding all-male societies”.
The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.