Long elephant memories may help with climate change-study

August 13, 2008

It’s true — elephants never forget. And that may mean the difference between life and death for herds coping with climate change.

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That is one of the findings of a recent study by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London, which suggests that old females may have long memories of distant sources of food and water.

This wisdom or memory can give a herd or family group an edge if confronted with drought or other kind of scarcity.

Understanding how elephants and other animal populations react to droughts will be a central component of wildlife management and conservation,” said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Charles Foley, lead author of the study.

Our findings seem to support the hypothesis that older females with knowledge of distant resources become crucial to the survival of herds during periods of extreme climatic events.”

The study, recently published in The Royal Society’s Biology Letters, compared the calf mortality rates of three groups of calves during a severe drought in 1993 in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.

In a nut shell, it found that the two groups that left the park had much  lower mortality rates than the one that stayed.

 And the two groups that left the park also had matriarchs that were 45 and 38 years of age, while the one that stayed had one aged 33. 

The researchers also noted that the old matriarchs had survived hard and prolonged droughts in the area as youngsters while the one aged 33 was not old enough to remember that distant event from 1958-1961. 

The data is hardly conclusive but if the hypothesis is true it does highlight among other things the need to protect elephants of all ages and the importance of family structures to herd survival.

A link to the study can be found here.

(Photo Credit: REUTERS/Claudia Daut, August 7, 2008, Cuba)

One comment

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The elephants can survive on their own if we stop the killing and make an effort to help the people find work. They are killed for money and out of greed. Stop the killing……….

Posted by Debora Edholm | Report as abusive