Song of the Lost Clan Information and Resources on the Young Adult Novel

5 Reasons an Elephant Herd Needs Its Matriarch

February 10, 2014 · By Angela Render

5. Like human leaders, elephant Matriarchs have a great influence over decision-making for the whole group. In an instance where the clan members have differing ideas over where to travel next, the Matriarch will observe, then make a decision and once she has decided, the others follow.

4. Elephant matriarchs are the center of an elephant clan’s fission-fusion social structure. It’s through them that the individual members find a connection to each other and to their own place in society. Just how important a role they play is still being studied.

3. Older Matriarchs appear to be better judges of predator danger than younger family groups. A study conducted by Karen McComb at Britain’s University of Sussex used recordings of lions roaring to test the responses of Matriarchs of differing ages. She found that Matriarchs ages 60 and older listened longer to male rather than female roars–male lions being larger and able to overpower young elephants–and that their groups huddled more frequently than those of younger Matriarchs. The behavior suggests that elephants respect and listen to their elders.

2. Older Matriarchs are also better at judging danger from other elephants and elephant clans. As elephant clans migrate, they encounter a wide range of strangers and sometimes the encounters aren’t friendly. A study found that clans led by an older Matriarch, while less stressed overall, tended to bunch behind their Matriarch when they heard unfamiliar elephant voices. This indicates both that older Matriarchs have a larger memory of voices and can better distinguish new from known, and that her followers respect that knowledge.

1. Wise, old Matriarchs are repositories for generations of information–information crucial to the clan’s survival. Knowing where to go based on experience can be crucial in a time of severe or unusual drought. As evidenced in Tangarire National Park in Tanzania in 1993, an unusual nine-month drought effected the elephant population. The study found that younger mothers tended to stay put in their normal dry-month refuge and had a higher mortally rate among their young. Clans led by an older Matriarch left for unknown places and had a lower mortality rate, suggesting that the wise elders knew where to go and what to do for the emergency.

A recent increase in poaching has been hitting the oldest and wisest elephant leaders, who have the largest tusks, the hardest. It’s not yet apparent what effect this will have on elephant society in the long term, but analysis of groups hardest hit by poaching indicates that the surviving members are suffering from chronic stress and a lowered ability to reproduce.

Source: What elephants can teach us about the importance of female leadership By Lesley Evans Ogden and New Scientist (Washington Post, January 27, 2014)

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