Elephants' Social Networks are Rich Despite Poachers

First Posted: Dec 21, 2015 09:27 PM EST

Elephants may be keeping up with their social networks despite being hunted. Scientists have found that while these animals are under pressure, they still have rich social networks among groups.

Poachers killed about 100,000 Africa's elephants for their ivory between 2010 and 2012. Older and more experienced individuals were at greater risk of poaching because of the size of their tusks. As a result, the average age of adult female elephants in Kenya's Samburu National Reserve has declined significantly.

Studies of the elephants social structure conducted over many years has found a level of complexity that rivals that of human societies. In this latest study, the researchers analyzed these patterns of social networks over time, and especially examined how elephant mothers shape their daughters' social lives.

"We were surprised at just how important a mother associates were to her daughter's new bonds," said Shifra Goldenberg, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In the past we've seen young females hanging out together that we wouldn't expect to, but then later as we do the analysis we see that their mothers did know each other and spent time together."

The researchers found that the structure of these elephants' social network was maintained over time, despite a 70 percent turnover of individuals. The oldest and most experienced remaining individuals stepped up to fill socially central "hubs" in the network.

The scientists also found that they could predict the social positions of daughters after a disruption based on that of their mothers.

The findings reveal a bit more about these elephants and show just how social they are.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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