Saturday, April 23, 2011

Older female elephants assess danger best

 African elephants feeding, Kruger National Park. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Male lions are deadly predators. A single male, alone, can bring down an elephant calf. Females can't do it alone - more than one female lion is needed to attack any elephant successfully. So, from an elephant's perspective,it pays to be able to tell who's on the prowl - a male or female lion, and how many.

Male lion fresh off a kill (note blood on lower lip), South Africa. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Karen McComb and her team from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, played lion calls to 39 elephant families in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. They compared the elephants' reactions to the lion roars. All the matriarchs reacted to the sound of three lions roaring with more agitation and avoidance than the sound of one lion. But the older matriarchs showed an additional awareness - they could tell not only the number of lions, but the gender of the lions, and respond to the different threats accordingly. McComb's research will be published in an upcoming Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Females over 60 are best judges of predatory threat
The researchers concluded that an older, more experienced leader would be likely to make a more accurate assessment of the relative danger from nearby lions(s). A young and aggressive leader can be an able defender, even though lacking the accumulated social and ecological knowledge of an elder. A combination of a young aggressive leader and an older experienced matriarch may be the ideal combo to head up a pride of lions.

Sadly, poachers often target bigger and older elephants. This practice poses a more serious threat to the elephants than would the poaching of younger individuals. The repercussions of poaching older elephants has broad implications, far beyond predatory threats. Elder elephants also model appropriate social behavior to younger adults and adolescents. The loss of elders can lead to out-of-control behavior in young rogue males, which have been documented behaving destructively and overly-aggressively. Their asocial behavior has included the rape of rhinoceros species.

For more information on conservation of African and Asian elelphants, and how you can get involved in protecting elephants from poaching, see the following websites:
TRAFFIC: the wildlife trade monitoring network
IFAW.ORG on African Elephants
International Elephant Foundation
Elephant Conservation
WWF - Elephants

Some of my previous posts about the illegal trade in wildlife
Africa's big mammal populations drop 59% in 40 years! 1/13/11
 308 rhinos killed in South Africa this year for their horns 12/16/10
The tiger in the suitcase: an isolated incident? 9/28/2010
Wildlife trade rivals drug trade in profits 9/20/2010
Laws flaunted: flourishing pet trade threatens orangutans' survival 8/23/2010
My search for a wild orangutan in Borneo and Sumatra 8/16/2020
Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm plantations 8/03/2010
With a chain-saw, he cut off the rhino's valuable horn 8/15/2009

Some of my previous posts about lions and leopards in Africa
Lions decline 90 to 95% in last 50 years. 3/3/2011
We were lucky to see lions on a kill. But are lions disappearing from Africa? 7/30/2009
Leopard adventure: male and female clash over prey. 8/4/2009

Keywords: lions older female elephants predators poaching Karen McComb

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