We’ve written before about the role of a matriarch in a traditional herd, and we’ve gotten many questions about the part that other female elephants play in the raising of a calf – so this week’s EleFACT will talk about group and family dynamics and young elephants.
When baby elephants are born, they stay close to their mothers for a few months. Because herds are matriarchal, calves have “aunts,” sometimes known as allomothers, who help raise the calves, protecting both the baby and the new mother. Aunts, sisters, and cousins all play a role in bringing up a baby elephant. Younger members of the group use this activity as a sort of training experience for when they have their own babies. The other members of the group pass on life experiences, teaching young elephants everything from how to use their trunks to how to avoid predators.
Allomothers also keep an eye on calves who are separated from their mothers, making sure they don’t get left behind each time the group moves; they might also help young elephants when they stumble or fall. It’s possible that allomothers want to protect their family members in order to increase the probability that their genes will be passed onto future generations. It is theorized that they might also choose to help the calves of those above them in the matriarchal hierarchy in order to gain favor with the matriarch.
As research continues on this phenomenon, scientists may discover more benefits or reasons behind the practice of allomothering. In the meantime, we can use the information we have now to learn more about social structures of elephant herds in general.
Photo of Guillermina and Bambi