Young male elephants rein in aggression if older males are nearby

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Young antheral elephants volition sometimes onslaught humans oregon different animals, but look little apt to bash truthful if they are successful the institution of older males

Life 22 December 2021

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre


A antheral elephant acting aggressively

Connie Allen

Young antheral elephants look to negociate their aggression towards thing that isn’t an elephant by modelling their behaviour connected older males.

Adolescent males are peculiarly assertive towards vehicles and non-elephant animals erstwhile they are alone. But erstwhile they find themselves astir mature males, they look to “behave better”, with a reduced fight-or-flight response, says Connie Allen astatine the University of Exeter, UK.

The findings could assistance radical amended recognize – and perchance adjacent trim instances of – dangerously assertive behaviour successful young antheral elephants roaming freely successful quality villages, portion supporting conservation efforts, she says.

“We truly request to guarantee that determination are plentifulness of older males successful the population, to benignant of modulate these assertive behaviours successful the different elephants,” says Allen. “And if the young guys are connected their own, they request to beryllium fixed a batch of space. I wouldn’t spell up to them oregon attack them, due to the fact that they mightiness beryllium successful this truly heightened, stressed, risk-prone state.”

“A large takeaway present is to debar over-hunting of these older males,” she says. “They truly are the preferred targets of hunting.”

Allen and her colleagues filmed African savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) arsenic they arrived successful “hotspots” – fashionable riverbank sites and mudholes – successful Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Here, 98 per cent of the elephants seen by villagers are antheral and human-elephant struggle has led to fatalities among some species. Male elephants walk up to 63 per cent of their lifetimes successful all-male groups and 18 per cent of their clip alone, says Allen.

The researchers categorised the elephants arsenic young adolescents (10 to 15 years old), older adolescents (16 to 20 years old), young adults (21 to 25 years old) and older, sexually and socially mature adults (26 years oregon older). They lone analysed video clips of males that weren’t astir females and weren’t successful musth, a earthy play that occurs each twelvemonth successful which males person heightened intersexual arousal and are often much aggressive.

Males of immoderate property seemed little assertive towards non-elephants erstwhile determination were older males nearby, says Allen. But solitary teen males successful peculiar were the astir apt to amusement aggression and fear-like behaviour. In fact, they adjacent acted aggressively towards animals and objects that wouldn’t logically beryllium a menace – bashing vegetation oregon charging birds and gazelles, for example.

“They mightiness beryllium feeling this heightened stress, and they instrumentality it retired connected different things alternatively of different elephants,” says Allen, adding that immoderate aggression towards different elephant could pb to a “really dangerous” conflict. “But if they instrumentality it retired connected thing that they cognize is not truthful overmuch a menace to them, possibly that’s benignant of a redirected aggression,” she says.

The beingness of astatine slightest 1 older big male, however, seemed to assistance support those reactions astatine bay, she says. While older elephants didn’t look to actively close the younger ones’ behaviour, the younger males mightiness person gauged their ain behaviour according to however the older elephants acted.

“I don’t cognize however technological it is to usage the connection ‘mentor’, but they look to beryllium alert of the older males successful their environment,” says Allen. “It’s truly pugnacious to beryllium a young antheral elephant and to marque it to that [mature] age. So, for sure, they look astatine the older males arsenic benignant of relation models of what it takes to beryllium successful.”

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1374

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