Whilst on a recent visit to Seba Camp in the Okavango, I spent some time with Kate Evans and Simon Buckingham. Together they run the charity Elephants for Africa, which supports the research project based there. Kate, who is a researcher by profession, has been studying elephants in this particular part of the delta for more than eight years now.
Much of Kates’ research has been focused on male elephants. She has been finding that the transition for a male to adulthood is more complex than it may appear.
Young males leave their natal herds when they are somewhere between 10 and 20 years old. These adolescent males must travel into areas that are unknown to them. They have to be able to find enough food to enable them to double their weight in time. This is also the time when they enter into a social hierarchy of other males. Their rank in this hierarchy may someday determine whether they get to mate and pass on their genes. During this period, Kate has found that the young males spend much of their time socializing and sparring with other males of similar ages. This is to be expected, but what is more surprising is her discovery that they prefer to be close to fully mature bulls whenever possible. With their years of experience, and intimate knowledge of their environment, the old bulls act as guides and role models for younger males. Whether they do this willingly or by merely tolerating the presence of younger males following them is not known.
What her data is showing though, is that the old, mature males are perhaps much more important in male elephant society than was generally thought. Her findings have important implications for the management of elephant populations.
Besides Kate’s work on males, her team is also researching vocal communication in elephants and monitoring numbers and vegetative impact in their study area.
Elephants for Africa are doing good work.
To find out more, go to www.elephantsforafrica.org