A study found elephant daughters step up to fill the roles of matriarchs who were killed by ivory poachers. A new research found elephant daughters help keep extended elephant families together post tragedy.
The study took more than 16 years wherein researchers from the Colorado State University and Save the Elephants analyzed the altered social dynamics of elephants in the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. The older members of the elephant community in the region were heavily poached for ivory.
Researchers found that aside from stepping up to fill older members' roles, the younger female elephants also formed relationships with each other that mimicked networks formerly held by the mothers. The elephant communities face grave threats from illegal poaching activities. Not only does poaching diminish their population, it also destroys the bonds that keep elephant communities together.
"The survivors maintained strong bonds through all of this, at times staying together closely for months, as if they were one single large family," said George Wittemyer, whose team had been studying the elephant community since 1997.
Findings showed 70 percent of the elephants who held social roles in the groups had been replaced by younger ones in the course of 16 years. The team was able to predict which among the younger female elephants would step up to assume the vacant roles. The prediction was based on whose matriarch previously held the position.
These younger female elephants then connected with young elephants whose own mothers intermingled with their own. The prediction held even if both young elephants didn't spend a lot of time with one another previously.
The researchers found that female elephants form core groups that consist of their closest kin. When the cores become too big, the members split and form smaller clusters but retain the bonds previoiusly formed. If these bonds become too big, the members start to form clans.
"Females were individualistic in what they did following poaching, but in general daughters tended to replicate the social behavior of their mothers," said primary study author Shifra Goldenberg from Colorado State University.
The team continues to document how the elephant community in Kenya piece their lives together after poaching tragedies.
The research was published in the journal Current Biology on Dec. 17.