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Social-Networking, Asian Elephant Style

New research reveals that female Asian elephants develop social interactions that extend to a larger, stable network of friends from which they can choose their companions.

| July 28, 2011 | In the Lab

AsianScientist (Jul. 28, 2011) - Female Asian elephants and calves tend to live in small, flexible social groups, as opposed to their male counterparts whom roam independently.

Among the females, as new research from BMC Ecology reveals, they develop social interactions that extend to a larger, stable network of friends from which they can choose who to associate with.

"Elephants are able to track one another over large distances by calling to each other and using their sense of smell. So the 'herd' of elephants one sees at any given time is often only a fragment of a much larger social group,” said Dr. Shermin de Silva, the lead author of the paper.

While these elephants tend to congregate in smaller groups containing three adult females, as many as 17 could be in a single group.

Some elephants kept a few close companions while others were the figurative "social butterflies," flitting from companion to companion; not surprisingly, those with few companions were very loyal, while ones with many were not as loyal.  

Over the course of the study, 16 percent completely changed their “top 5” friends.

During dry seasons, Asian elephants were especially likely to associate with larger sets of companions, perhaps due to the ecology of their environment. When resources were scarce, social bonds were strong to the extent of expelling unfamiliar elephants from sources of water. In comparison, other elephants congregate in greater numbers during wet seasons.

The study, conducted by Shermin de Silva, Ashoka D.G. Ranjeewa, and Sergey Kryazhimskiy, followed the friendships among over a hundred female Asian elephants in the Uda Walawe National Park in Sri Lanka and analyzed how these relationships changed over a period of five seasons.

The article can be found at: de Silva S et al. (2011) The dynamics of social networks among female Asian elephants.


Source: BioMed Central.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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