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Group Structure

Each elephant troop has its own home range, but territorial fights are rare even though ranges often overlap. While several hundred elephants may roam a similar range, small "kin groups" form between female relatives. The leader of each group is a respected old female with years of accumulated knowledge. This matriarch is the mother and grandmother of other members but sometimes allows her sisters and their offspring to join the group. Once a male reaches maturity, he is forced to leave. The entire group looks to the matriarch for guidance, particularly in the face of danger. Her actions, based on her superior knowledge, will determine whether the group flees or stands its ground. Young members learn from their elders how to find water and food during drought, when to begin travel and where to go, and many other survival skills. This knowledge is passed on from generation to generation.

Once a male elephant reaches sexual maturity at 12 years or older, the matriarch no longer tolerates him in the group. He will then live mostly alone or perhaps join a small, loosely-knit group of other males. Bull elephants seldom form long-term relationships with other males, but often one or two young males accompany an old bull, perhaps to learn from him. Bulls often spar with each other to establish a dominance hierarchy. Elephants have an excellent memory; once a social hierarchy is established, the same two elephants not only recognize each other, even after many years, but know which one is dominant. This way, they avoid fighting again to reestablish dominance. After about 25 years of age, male elephants experience annual periods of heightened sexuality called "musth," which lasts about a week in younger animals and perhaps three or four months as they near their 50s. During this time they aggressively search out females and challenge other bulls, sometimes even causing more dominant males to back down. Different bulls come into musth at different times of the year; however, two well-matched bulls in musth may fight to the death.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to EphemeralElephant - Evolution, Body, Limbs, Head, Mouth And Trunk, Teeth, Ears, Group Structure - Eyes, Social behavior, Death