EleFact Friday: Powerful Grandmothers

We’ve spoken in the past about elephant mothers and babies, but what about grandmothers and elephant calves? This week’s EleFact will focus on the role that grandmothers play in the survival of calves and the breeding success of their daughters.

Researchers have found that wild Asian elephant mothers under the age of 20 have a maternal mortality rate eight times lower if the grandmother lives in the same place as the mother and calf than if she does not. Having grandmothers nearby also decreases the intervals between births by a year, so the mothers are having calves more frequently when grandmothers are around. It’s theorized that elephant mothers who are older than 20 don’t benefit from the grandmother’s presence as much, possibly because they have enough calf rearing experience to succeed without the help of their mother. Additionally, the more calves the grandmother reared herself before her “grandcalf” was born, the better the chances of survival the new elephant has. In other words, experienced grandmothers can potentially be life changing for newborn elephants with young mothers.
In the wild, elephants can live up to approximately 80 years and experience multiple generations of females and their babies. In zoos, it is rare to see multi-generational families, and calf mortality can be as high as 50% in their first year of life. This again suggests that having an experienced grandmother around could possibly have an impact on the survival of newborn elephants.
The study also highlights the importance of preventing poaching, especially when the target is an older, larger female. Their presence could be critical for the survival of a younger generation of elephants and their removal could pose critical threats to an already deeply endangered species.
If you’d like to read more about the study, you can do so here:
Photo of sweet Rana


  1. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Wow, yes Grandmothers have a very important role to play with humans and also within the herd! They have alot to teach their family members but this is very interesting so informative and something I never knew or would’ve thought of their life span is so much longer and more productive too so thank you Kat for another great lesson to store in our memory banks!

  2. REPLY
    Terry says

    The female energy is a powerful force!!! This is a very interesting topic. Thanks for sharing. As a side note, I read Scott’s ” letter” to Pocha. I cried buckets of tears. Pocha was an amazing mom to Guille and an incredibly wordly being. I am grateful for her.

  3. REPLY
    Maureen says

    I know how much it meant to me to have my grandmother’s in my life, I would expect it to be no less important for elephants! Grandmother’s not only pass on knowledge & experience, their experience gives them a different level of patience which allows for play and fun. Their attention is solely on the youngster and gives them a captive audience for their silly antics and then also keeps the grandmother’s young. They have proven how important it is in people to have young and old together. There are places where elementary students visit the elderly in nursing homes on a regular basis and the benefits for both are well documented. Again, I would expect it to be no different for elephants.

  4. REPLY
    Beji says

    Girl power!!

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