Humans drive all-male elephant grouping

These elephants remained solitary or associated in mixed-age and mixed-sex groups within the forested areas.
Environmental and anthropogenic factors have not just degraded elephant habitats and left them stressed, but also changed their social behaviour, notes a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru. The study revealed that there has been an increase in all-male elephant groups in the regions where landscape have been modified by humans. However, these elephants remained solitary or associated in mixed-age and mixed-sex groups within the forested areas. From February 2016 to December 2017, the researchers observed Asian elephants in a large area of nearly 10,000 sq. km, encompassing protected forested areas and human-use habitations including crop fields in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Using camera traps, they monitored the elephants that visit the nearby agricultural areas and those that stayed largely within the forests. Mature male elephants are known to move out from their herd to find nutritious forage to improve their reproductive health and also find a mate. But usually they roam around solo.


Some of these elephants have been together for over 10 years. When asked if there has been any homosexual behaviour, Srinivasaiah explains that though they have observed few sexual interactions among the males, they were not aimed at mating but mostly to establish dominance or bonding. It was also observed that musth elephants from these groups moved long-distances into the forested areas and associated with females for reproduction and returned to the original male-group later. “Similar all-male groups are found in baboons, Asiatic and African lions. But this owes mostly to affiliations and establishing domination over mating. But in elephants it’s more about security or escaping the risk-areas,” he adds. He adds that these changes are purely environmental and not biologically influenced. More studies are needed to fully understand such emerging behaviours. Decoding them may help frame new strategies to manage human–elephant conflict.

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