EleFact Friday: The Role of a Matriarch

Our last few EleFACT Fridays have been about male elephants, so this week we’ll be focusing on matriarchs and their leadership status within the elephant herd. It can be said that the matriarch of a herd takes on the most important role of the family structure; she is often the oldest and largest adult female member of the family. Other members of the herd may orient themselves around her and pay close attention to her leadership in moments of crisis and change. 

Matriarchs have been described as aggressively dominant, or acting more as authoritative figures within the herd. Research finds this to be largely untrue, as many take into account the suggestions of other elephants within the herd, though ultimately the final decision will almost always be hers. Most successful matriarchs are not self-appointed females who force their way into the position, but are instead chosen by other members of the family – often because of her age and/or perceived wisdom. She is respected, and has proven to her herd that she can be trusted to make the best decisions for the family. The best matriarch is able to show compassion and care for all members of the herd, not just the calves or other adult elephants that she’s directly mothered. 

Our herd here at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil does not have a true matriarch. Many people believe that Rana would make an ideal matriarch in a natural herd situation, but here at sanctuary she has quietly taken on the role of a passive leader. Rana, with her malleable  nature, is the elephant who is trusted most by all other fellow residents. She has a calming presence about her, but can also lighten the mood, and frequently seems to have the well-being of the other elephants in mind. Her special qualities are noticed and appreciated by both humans and elephants at GSE.


  1. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Sweetness and light – that’s what I think of when I think of Rana! ❤️?❤️

  2. REPLY
    Alana says

    Rana-bug is just the best! Special, special lady.

  3. REPLY
    Kenneth B. Newman says

    So when Pocha and Guillermina make their grand entrance, , the dynamics between them and the 5 other female elephants will be interesting…….I just hope it will be peaceful, and the current 5 will be most welcoming…..Guillermina could have 6 mothers……… that’s a lot to listen too………

    How is the digging of the post holes for both the African females area and the area for Tamy coming along? Are the plans for Tamy’s area completed yet? Have the post hole locations been marked, plotted, and drawing done?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      The posts are in place for the female African habitat and we have begun the horizontal bars and gates. We have nearly enough steel for Tamy’s habitat and have started his barn and stalls. We know where everything will be situated and work more on the fencing once the female African area is complete. We have a bit more steel to buy and the prices are still increasing. The space has to be ready for the ladies’ arrival before we begin a new project.

  4. REPLY
    Barb says

    What a wonderful relationship between the matriarch and a herd! It must be comforting to have a trusted leader.

  5. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    I think Rana serms like Ronnie at TES – the tie that binds. She’s a sweetheart!

  6. REPLY
    Lila Nieto says

    Oh yes, I looooove my Rana 🙂

  7. REPLY
    bo says

    passive leader… perfectly said!

  8. REPLY
    Sandra Paquet says

    I love that Rana is the “unofficial” leader or Matriarch of the girls; she seems just right for the job and by the sound of it, is an amazing teacher. I am anxious to see how the new girls fit into the group and look forward to more changes. Sending best wishes to all of you and thank you so much for spending your time taking care of these elephants, you’re all amazing.

  9. REPLY
    Marcia says

    We need a Rana Shirt!

  10. REPLY
    Elaine says

    Human beings could take lessons from these wonders of nature!

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