Adolescence in male African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and the importance of sociality

KE Evans, S Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


The degree of sociality during an animal’s life changes as it modulates its behaviour to reflect different life stages. Only a few species of mammal undergo a period of adolescence, but for these species it is probably one of their most important life stages. It is when individuals acquire skills and develop relationships that are of both immediate and long-term benefit to their survival and reproductive success, particularly in polygynous males in which sexual selection favours size and dominance. We collected focal and observational data on male African elephants in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, to assess behaviour and social interactions during adolescence. Adolescent males (10e15 and 16e20 years of age) were the most sociable age group, showing preferences for larger social groupings and being in closer proximity to other elephants; later adolescent males (ages 16e20) showed a tendency for higher social levels. Males of all ages preferred to have males 36 years of age as their nearest neighbour. We argue that this proximity to older males provides opportunities for males to learn from more experienced individuals. It has long been recognized that matriarchs are the repositories of social and ecological knowledge within elephant breeding herds: we suggest that mature males are reservoirs for such knowledge within bull society.
Translated title of the contributionAdolescence in male African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and the importance of sociality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779 - 787
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


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