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Identifying the effects of social disruption through translocation on African elephants (loxodonta africana ), with specifics on the social and ecological impacts of orphaning

Garaï, M. E., Boult, V. L. ORCID: and Zitzer, H. R. (2023) Identifying the effects of social disruption through translocation on African elephants (loxodonta africana ), with specifics on the social and ecological impacts of orphaning. Animals, 13 (3). 483. ISSN 2076-2615

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To link to this item DOI: 10.3390/ani13030483


Simple Summary: The translocation of elephants is a management tool developed in the 1980s during the culling operations at the Kruger National Park, South Africa, to remove “surplus” elephants from fenced properties. Elephants live in large social networks and form strong social bonds within their family units. In particular, the mother–offspring bond is crucial to the learning and development of social skills and social and environmental competence of the calves. The leadership role and experience of the matriarch appear to be an important factor in providing the necessary knowledge to optimise social and environmental skills and competence. The translocation of smaller groups of elephants results in the social disruption of these networks. This paper looks at the social and ecological aspects of such disruption and what it implies for elephants. A herd of Orphans and a translocated herd consisting of two families were observed over several years. The Orphans demonstrated marked effects of social disruption by splitting more frequently and for longer periods than the family herd and experiencing accelerated reproduction. Social disruption may therefore reduce learning opportunities with implications for elephant society as well as for conservation. Abstract: African elephants (Loxodonta africana) exhibit a long developmental period during which they acquire complex social and ecological knowledge through social networks. Central to this is that matriarchs and older individuals play an important role as repositories of information gained through experience. Anthropogenic interventions—including poaching, culling, translocation, and hunting—can disrupt elephants’ social networks, with implications for individual fitness and potential long-term population viability. Here, we draw on a unique long-running, individual-based dataset to examine the impacts of translocation on a population of elephants in South Africa, taking into consideration demographic rates, social dynamics, and ecological decision-making. Specifically, we compared two translocated groups: a group of unrelated culling Orphans and a family herd. We found that the Orphan group experienced accelerated reproductive rates when compared with the family herd. The Orphan group also fissioned more frequently and for longer periods of time, suggesting lower cohesiveness, and were less decisive in their large-scale movement decisions. These results add to the growing body of literature on the downstream impacts of social disruption for elephants. Whilst the translocation of culling Orphans is no longer practised in South Africa, we encourage careful consideration of any elephant translocation and the resulting social disruption.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:110405
Uncontrolled Keywords:Article, African elephants, social disruption, orphans, calf mortality, reproduction, social competence, leadership, cohesiveness, anthropogenic effects


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