Tuskless elephants are suffering from “social extinction” that could harm their breeding success

Rescuers have now rescued nearly 2,000 tuskless elephants in Africa and Asia since the 1920s. But as the teams push to quell elephant poaching, there are worries that tuskless elephants are falling into the…

Tuskless elephants are suffering from “social extinction” that could harm their breeding success

Rescuers have now rescued nearly 2,000 tuskless elephants in Africa and Asia since the 1920s. But as the teams push to quell elephant poaching, there are worries that tuskless elephants are falling into the trap of becoming too comfortable. Wildlife conservationists say the tuskless elephants may be victims of “social extinction,” wherein once dominant social groups continue their lives without protecting younger elephants, inciting serious conflicts.

Invasive species such as this have been known to transform elephant populations. Experts cite Liberia’s chimps as an example of how social collapse among chimps can drive them out of their homes and into mangrove swamps. Eastern forest elephants are generally smaller than Western African ones, but both species have distinctive traits, including an austere, conservative manner of walking and high-tail it away from predators. Yet the way the eastern forest elephants walk has changed. According to a recent report in Nature Communications, in the last few decades eastern forest elephants have clumped close together, hiding in larger territories and moving more quickly, while the Western forest elephants are more disperse. This behavior contrasts with early generations that took longer to hide.

A study published this month shows that the way the same number of elephants move is actually changing in Africa. The researchers compared the proportion of elephants that left their home range in Africa over the last three decades, showing that movement was consistently higher in the eastern forest elephant sub-population, with what the authors call a “split-range” pattern (male-heavy groups traveled farther away, whereas females kept moving within their new habitats). The authors argue that these changes are evidence of “social extinction” or “degrading behavior.” These adaptations may also drive elephants to grow more slowly than in the past.

Joseph Conkey of the World Wildlife Fund discusses these issues in the video above, an edited version of a video the group released earlier this year.

The World Wildlife Fund would like to share these videos with all of you, but it has deemed them “unsociable,” so you will have to keep your eyes peeled. We’re not planning on looking away again in the near future.

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