Elephant herd structure
Elephant have a highly ordered and structured social fabric – especially in the breeding herds where the stable social group is made up of closely related adult females with their offspring of various ages. Adult males join breeding herds when there is a female on heat and adolescent males leave herds to form small bachelor groups, which are loosely structured and unstable. Two or three younger bulls referred to as askaris sometimes accompany old bulls. Herd size is variable but herds numbering hundreds of individuals of all age classes and sex are not uncommon. These large herds will sometimes congregate, socialize for a while and then break up into smaller units.
A dominant matriarchal cow that dictates their movements leads the elephant herd. Their methods of communication include touch, visual cues and audible communication. The sounds elephant make whilst communicating with one another are not however all audible to the human ear as some of the lower frequencies (14 – 35 Hz) – referred to as infrasound – fall below the human threshold for hearing. Young elephant are adventurous, fun loving and frivolous and enjoy interaction with all members of the herd.
Touch is extremely important to elephant. Young calves and mothers will often be seen touching one another – expressions of reassurance and fondness. Without a doubt and without the danger of becoming anthropomorphic there appears to be a very real expression of affection – even love – between elephants and especially between cows and their young offspring. Elephant calves are an entertainment to watch. Always busy – like children with an almost inexhaustible supply of energy. Exploring, inquisitive, playing, trying to figure out how to work this thing called a trunk. Yet when tiredness eventually sets in they will snuggle under mother for a drink or for a reassuring touch or like little clowns will flop over onto their sides for a quick nap. Elephant cows are highly protective of their young and to find yourself, on foot, in the close proximity to a breeding herd of elephant is possibly one of the most dangerous situations in the African bush. Many people have lost their lives in Africa as victims of enraged elephant cows protecting their young. Recently a ranger in the Kruger National Park narrowly escaped death when he was knelt and trampled on by an elephant cow. He survived but had ribs broken in no less than twenty places, two broken collarbones, a hole through his arm from the tusk and internal injuries to prove it.