Orphaned elephants show signs of long-term stress – but putting them with peers of the same age can reverse the effect, a recent study shows.
Researchers have measured stress levels of the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) in Kenya by sampling their dung.
They found social support from other elephants of the same age can alleviate the stress that happens from losing their mother.
Previous studies have shown that supportive relationships with other members of the identical species diminish a person’s stress response – a phenomenon known as ‘social buffering’.
The outcomes of the brand new study support the hypothesis that this ‘social buffering’ occurs in wild elephants.
Two of the study orphans from the Artists 2 family at ages 13 and 14, resting with their calves. One has a floppy left ear and the opposite (since killed by gunfire during conflict between humans and elephants) had a floppy right ear. They were at all times together, so had not less than one pair of righted ears between them
It’s already know that supportive relationships with other members of the identical species diminish a person’s stress response – a phenomenon known as ‘social buffering’.
When a vertebrate is confronted with a stressor, the adrenal glands release more glucocorticoid hormones into the bloodstream.
Social buffering is demonstrated when the presence of a number of companions reduces such a hormone release.
As an illustration, strong bonds with other males lessened glucocorticoid release in wild male macaques (Macaca sylvanus), and the presence of a well-recognized companion lessened glucocorticoid release following exposure to a stressor in captive male squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus).
While most studies of social buffering have concerned primates and laboratory rodents, it has been observed in additional taxa including fish and birds.
The brand new study was conducted by experts at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and published within the journal Communications Biology.
‘We observed correlations that time to the importance of age mates and familial relationships in buffering maternal loss for surviving orphans,’ they are saying within the paper.
‘Preserving social bonds inside wildlife populations may make individuals inside those populations more resilient to disturbance and optimize their physiological condition.’
For the study, the team collected stress responses of 25 orphaned and 12 non-orphaned female African elephants from the Samburu and Buffalo Springs National Reserves in Kenya.
Elephants ranged in age from seven to 21 years, which is a couple of third of the species’ 60 to 70 12 months lifespan.
Orphaned elephants had lost their moms between one and 19 years prior to the study, on account of poaching or drought.
Poaching and severe drought between 2009 and 2014 killed many adult females within the Samburu population, abandoning fragmented families and feminine orphan calves.
Of the 25 orphans, five had left their natal family to hitch an unrelated group or form a bunch with other orphans after their mother’s death.
The opposite 20 orphans had remained inside the same family unit after the death of their moms.
Researchers measured the concentrations of glucocorticoid metabolites (GCMs) in 496 samples of the elephants’ dung between 2015 and 2016.
Certainly one of the study orphans from the Americans family, at age 13, crossing the Ewaso N’giro River together with her calf and her sister’s calf
Researchers measured the concentrations of glucocorticoid metabolites (GCMs) in 496 samples of the elephants’ dung between 2015 and 2016. Pictured is samples from three of the elephants
GCMs are produced by the breakdown of glucocorticoid hormones, that are released by the adrenal glands in response to emphasize.
So an elephant with higher concentrations of GCMs of their dung could be experiencing more stress, in line with researchers.
The team found no differences in fecal GCM concentrations between non-orphans and orphans several years after their mother’s death.
This was though elephant orphans suffer lower survival rates than non-orphans.
Nevertheless, concentrations were lower amongst those living in groups containing more elephants of the same age, no matter whether or not they were orphaned.
A family or members of a herd of untamed African elephant (Loxodonta africana) within the Kruger national park, South Africa (file photo)
This implies that social support may help lower stress levels amongst orphaned elephants, and that support from similar age companions may help lower stress levels amongst all elephants.
Interestingly, levels of glucocorticoid metabolites were lower amongst orphans who had left their family group after the death of their mother, in comparison with non-orphans and those that remained of their family group.
They speculate that this may very well be on account of glucocorticoid release by the adrenal glands being suppressed in response to prolonged high stress levels.
The team’s recent findings could help inform the management of orphaned elephants brought into captivity.
Providing captive orphans with similar-age companions and maintaining groups of bonded orphans could help reduce their stress levels.
Moreover, releasing bonded groups of orphans from captivity together could help ease their transition back into the wild.
Unfortunately, the African savannah elephant is currently being driven to close extinction on account of hunting and is currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.
In keeping with the WWF, populations of elephants in southern and eastern Africa that after showed promising signs of recovery are in danger on account of the recent surge in poaching for the illegal ivory trade.
THE AFRICAN SAVANNAH: THE LARGEST LAND MAMMAL IN THE WORLD
African savannah elephants are the most important land animals on Earth. A mature male African savannah may rise up to 13 feet tall on the shoulder and weigh 14,000 kilos.
As they move, they push over trees to get to their branches and roots, helping maintain the grasslands, they usually use their tusks and trunks to dig for water, creating pools that many other animals must survive.
Habitat loss and poaching are the most important concerns for his or her survival. Because the human footprint has grown in Africa, elephant habitats have been converted to farmland, deforested by industrial logging and mining, and otherwise developed by roads and settlements.
Poachers kill elephants for his or her ivory and meat, and farmers sometimes kill them to guard their crops, which elephants often raid.
The IUCN lists African savannah elephant populations as vulnerable. Each female and male African savannahs have tusks and are subsequently targeted by hunters.
Three living elephant species are currently recognised – the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant.
A noticeable distinction between African savannah and African forest elephants is size – the savannah is larger and has greater and more curved tusks.
Asian elephants have much smaller ears than each African species and frequently, only the male Asian elephant sports tusks